WASHINGTON (JTA) — The recent Middle East turmoil has sharpened Israeli needs for tangible security guarantees in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians, Dennis Ross said.
Ross, President Obama’s top Middle East adviser, told the Anti-Defamation League’s annual leadership conference in Washington on Monday that security guarantees sought by Israel toward a peace deal with the Palestinians were critical, “particularly during a time of change.”
The Palestinians, in turn, “need to see that they can have an independent state that is viable and contiguous” as well as “signs the occupation is receding.”
Ross outlined the Obama administration’s approach to the “Arab Spring,” the push for democracy roiling the Middle East: Assist those governments ready to transition to democracy and oppose those that increase oppression in the face of protest, sometimes with military force, as with Libya.
Ross said that the unrest sweeping the region could result in democratic regimes structurally more likely to ensure peace with Israel — but could also prove a bonanza for Islamists hoping to exploit the turmoil.
He implied that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front would help facilitate the former scenario. Democrats in the region “need to see that negotiations cannot only take place, they can produce,” he said, and then he cited Israeli-Palestinian talks as an example.
Ross reiterated the Obama administration position opposing Palestinian attempts to obtain recognition of statehood before striking a deal with Israel.
"We have consistently made it clear that the way to produce a Palestinian state is through negotiations, not through unilateral declarations, not through going to the U.N.," he said.
Ross said the U.S.-Israel defense relationship was “better than ever,” with greater depth and substance than under previous administrations.
He quoted from remarks two weeks ago by Robert Gates during the U.S. defense secretary’s visit to Israel.
“I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship,” Gates had said. “The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”
Separately, Defense News reported Monday that Israel and the United States are planning a “massive exercise” that would allow both countries to function as a wartime joint task force.