Former Mideast peace envoy says there's still hope
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite the recent surge in violence in the Middle East, hope for a lasting peace remains, said former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization.
In an interview with CNN's Kyra Phillips on Saturday, Ross also reflected on the efforts of the Clinton administration to broker peace in the region.
"We now have to focus on how does one get out of the current mess," he said. "I think it's very important for the Palestinians to understand one fundamental fact ... Violence is not a tool that can advance the cause the Palestinians have sought for so long."
Though the former envoy for the Clinton administration acknowledged "there might have been tactical moves that we could have made that would be different," he said they would not have affected the outcome of peace talks.
"The strategic issue at stake is whether or not Chairman Arafat is capable of negotiating an end to this conflict," Ross said, referring to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. "What I think he demonstrated is he cannot negotiate an end to it.
"If he can't negotiate an end to it, that does not mean you have to have endless conflict. Instead, what you have to do is ... focus on the small steps that can be taken to change the environment on the ground."
The Clinton administration should have done some things differently, he said, though they might not have resolved the conflict.
"We should have been much tougher in insisting there should not have been one environment at the negotiating table and another environment on the street," Ross said.
"We should have been more insistent that there could not be incitement to hostility, there could not be the promotion of grievance as a tool of negotiations," he continued. "There should have been greater preparation of the Palestinian public for peace on the one hand and, I think, on the other hand, the Israelis should have looked for ways to minimize the kinds of steps that create a greater sense of grievance on the Palestinian side."
As examples, Ross cited confiscation of property, demolition of houses and expansion of Jewish settlements.
Since the collapse of the peace talks last year, both sides "are being pretty much governed by a sense of anger, frustration and despair," Ross said.
"You have to change the realities on the ground. You've got to find a way for the Palestinians to find a way to make clear that they are not going to incite the violence, and the violence is not something that they're going to support. You've got to find a way for the Israelis to lift the economic siege so Palestinians can have a more normal life."
Despite all the violence and rancor, peace is possible in the region, he said.
"Each side has to address the fears and deeds of the other. If you can take away the fears, you can begin to build hope and trust again. If you have hope and trust and you have an environment that fosters that, you can produce peace," said Ross.
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