Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Peace That Got Away ; Dennis Ross Predicts That the Eventual Israeli-Palestinian Agreement Will Look like the Final Clinton-Era Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Peace That Got Away ; Dennis Ross Predicts That the Eventual Israeli-Palestinian Agreement Will Look like the Final Clinton-Era Plan

Article excerpt

If retail success were related to a book's historical importance, Dennis Ross's "Missing Peace" would outsell Bill Clinton's memoir by at least two to one.

That's not a slam at Clinton's "My Life," which I haven't read; it's a reflection of the detail, authority, and purpose of Ross's mammoth tome.

For 12 years, from 1988 through 2000, Ross was the top US diplomat charged with managing the Middle East peace process. He had unique access to virtually every leader in the region, not to mention two US presidents. He probably knows more about the attempts to resolve one of the seminal geopolitical conflicts of our time than anybody else on earth.

And here he tells us about all of it: the hopes, the dreams, the meetings - lots of meetings - and the heartache when, in the last hours of the Clinton administration, with the goal of an Israeli- Palestinian resolution so near, it all came undone.

He's out of the government now, but he's still trying. His purpose in writing this book is perhaps only partly to add to the historical record. He wants to show all parties how close they came, what the other sides thought, and how the whole thing might yet be solved, given enough effort and time.

"Only by telling this story can we debunk the myths that prevent all sides from seeing reality and adjusting to it," he writes. "Indeed, only by telling the story can we hope to learn the lessons from the past and make it possible to shape a different future."

But first, a caveat: This is a book for readers who already have at least a passing knowledge of the historical forces that have swirled through the Middle East since the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Breezy, it's not.

Oh, sure, it has its moments. There's the time Ross calls Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a liar, and then knocks over a pitcher of grapefruit juice. At one point, Ross admits that he and President Clinton mangled an important phone call (to Arafat, incidentally) because they were paying too much attention to a University of Arkansas basketball game on TV. During the Camp David summit of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak choked on a peanut. It took a quick Heimlich maneuver to save him - and the meetings.

But the personalities in this book are only briefly sketched. We don't learn here, for instance, as we do from Secretary of State James Baker's own memoir of the period, that Syrian president Hafez al-Assad had an astounding capacity to carry on a monologue for hours without having to resort to a bathroom. In Ross's telling, the subsidiary Arab and Israeli negotiators eventually tend to blur together, however crucial their role in the proceedings.

Instead, the process - the back and forth swapping of positions - is the real subject of this work, and for that record, it's nothing if not monumental. Ross is the embodiment of the American belief that process is essential - that if the opposing sides in the Israeli-Arab disputes can be kept talking long enough, under the right conditions, good things will happen. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.