In a talk that was billed as looking at the “Abraham Accords and the ‘Normalization’ of Israel in the Middle East,” Ambassador Dennis Ross used his hour at Minnesota Hillel Monday night to talk about that — while also covering a large swath of Middle East policies, Israel, and the United States’ involvement in the region.
“I want to deal more genuinely where the U.S. is right now and the challenges to pursuing the kind of role in the world that President Biden talks about,” Ross said.
Ross did use that as a springboard to the discussion of normalization, and the tricky dance that takes place with Israel and the Palestinians, and the U.S. and Iran — and how those all intersect.
“Part of it is we’ve got to decide when we’re prepared to do, which we haven’t done, and until we do, then we’re going to continue to be tested,” Ross said. “That’s part of my big fear right now is the Iranians have lost their fear of us. So, that will lead them, in my mind, to miscalculate at some point. That’s what becomes dangerous so that’s another reason we have to stake something out.”
Ross’s talk was part of the Academic Engagement Network’s sixth regional short-course, a three-and-a-half program that wraps up on Oct. 6, giving participants to “learn more about contemporary Israel, develop strategies related to countering the delegitimization of Israel on campus, and network with other interested faculty,” according to the organization’s website. The AEN was founded in 2015 to counter the delegitimization of Israel and is a national organization of more than 800 faculty members and staff on more than 250 American college and university campuses. Hillel and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas were partners in presenting the event.
On the issue of Iran, Ross said that the Iranians are being more active in the threats they pose to the region.
“There are two choices for the Middle East: One choice is a choice that says we can have food security, water security, health security in an environment where climate change is producing drought and threatens all of these; one that says we can build economies based on digital technologies, and education; one says that we can have hope for our kids and for a future,” he said. “And the other is a pathway that guarantees conflict for sure. They have an ideology that justifies their holding power. It doesn’t create change for the better; it almost guarantees that there’s no possibility of that.”
Ross said that Iran would rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal — but only on their terms.
“They want what I call more for less. They want us to give more than we’re required to give and they want to provide less,” he said. “And they may be prepared to live without it because they think that they can manage domestically, that China will buy enough oil. That’s why you have to get to the Chinese.”
With Israel-Palestinian relations, Ross said that the basic divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority make peace with Israel challenging.
“When there’s no peace among Palestinians, it’s pretty hard for them to be able to make peace with the Israelis,” he said. Israel has its own challenges in government, too. The most diverse Israeli coalition government that has been assembled also can’t agree on what the outcome should be with the Palestinians.
Ross said that the Abraham Accords and normalization is the new element needed to break the political stalemate.
“The Abraham Accords can be used not just to affect this broader landscape, but it can also be used to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said. “It will require us to be more active than we’ve been. It comes back to who we are, and are we prepared to play this kind of role.”