Ambassador Dennis Ross mostly blamed Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat for the Palestinians’ plight and denounced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s military tactics before a crowd of about 75 students Sunday in the Marvin Center.
Students in attendance said they were disappointed the event was not more of a forum on the issues.
“Palestinians are paying a terrible price; Israelis are also paying a terrible price,” said Ross, a former Middle East policy adviser and envoy under former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Ross spoke about his experiences negotiating with Israeli and Arab leaders in the speech, sponsored by Hillel, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and the United Jewish Communities. Ross pointed out flaws in leaders on each side, noting that Arafat fails to make lasting commitments and Sharon views the use of military force as a solution.
“Palestinians are suffering,” he said. “We have to ask who is responsible and I have to say ultimately, not 100 percent, but ultimately it is Yasser Arafat.”
Ross called on Arab leaders to denounce suicide bombing as a tactic against Israel.
“(Other Arab leaders) can create an environment where suicide bombing is illegal,” he said. “They can create an environment where peace is possible and terrorism is not. But it is an illusion to assume that they can play the role of Palestine.”
Ross also discounted the argument that desperation from extreme poverty drives Palestinians to suicide bombings.
” Thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds are not making a calculated judgment about the history of the oppression of their people,” he said. “Someone who is considerably older is convincing them. It’s an outrage, and it ought to be condemned.”
Drawing on his years as a policy adviser, Ross outlined potential peace plans for the Middle East. Ross said he thought Israeli unilateral withdrawal was the most likely option. He said several Israeli military officials support withdrawal, because he said the current system commits a large amount of resources to protect a few settlers who live in Palestinian areas.
Students said they enjoyed the speech but were disappointed in the lack of response and attendance from pro-Palestinian students.
Senior Danny Varon said he would have liked to see a forum on campus with student speakers from both perspectives.
“It was disappointing that the turnout didn’t bring out both sides,” senior David Fishman said. “I think Dennis Ross has been outspoken for both sides. He was clear about the wretched state that Palestinians are living in, and even though he attributed it to their leader, he did not discount Israeli actions.”
“It was great to hear from a person who was directly involved,” sophomore Daniel Mesznik said. “I thought he put a lot of debates that exist on campus to rest.”
Ross said he remained “optimistic” for peace in the Middle East.
“Too many Israelis and Palestinians know that this is not the answer, but right now anger blinds them,” he said. “I’ve heard of a cycle of violence. Really, it’s a cycle of grievance, and ultimately, we have to break that cycle. When that day comes, there will be peace.”