Two ex-State Department officials who have spent decades – under both Democratic and Republican presidents – pressuring Israel, will be among the featured speakers at the American Zionist Movement’s national conference later this month. An interesting choice, to say the least.
The AZM’s three-day conference, to be held in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 15 to 17, will include many impressive pro-Israel speakers. Yet it will also feature Aaron Miller and Dennis Ross, whose records of criticizing and pressuring Israel are long and troubling.
Miller was a senior Middle East adviser to Secretary of State James Baker. He helped write Baker’s speeches and helped shape his policies concerning Israel, which are widely considered to have been the most unfriendly American policies toward Israel in our country’s history. And Miller was still defending Baker many years later, declaring in the Los Angeles Times in 2008 that “Baker was tough on Israel when he needed to be, but he was no anti-Semite.” Those who remember Baker’s infamous “[Expletive] the Jews” remark might disagree with Miller’s assessment.
Writing in the journal SAIS Review in 1987, Miller praised Yasir Arafat as “pragmatic,” “conservative” and “moderate.” (Note the year – it was before Arafat was even pretending to recognize Israel’s right to exist.) The term “Palestinian terrorists” did not come easily to Miller’s lips. In that article, he called them “Palestinian fighters,” and described the PLO’s terrorist attacks as “Palestinian operations against Israel.” Indeed.
The following year, Miller helped engineer the first U.S. recognition of Arafat and the PLO. But when a PLO faction tried to launch an “operation” to slaughter Israelis on the Tel Aviv beach and seize the nearby U.S. embassy, the U.S. was forced to cancel its recognition of Arafat. It should have cost Miller his job.
Instead, Miller became a senior Mideast policymaker in the Clinton administration, where he pushed the line that Palestinian violations of the Oslo accords were unimportant, and that Arafat should continue receiving $500-million in U.S. aid each year, regardless of his actual behavior. It was Miller who came up with the idea to remake Arafat’s image by having him visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Brilliant.
In recent years, Miller has spent a lot of time dishing out his “expert opinions” on television talk shows and op-ed pages. He endorsed the Iran nuclear agreement, insisting that “in a galaxy far away, a better deal might have been possible, but not here on planet Earth and not under these circumstances.” He opposed moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying such a move “puts America’s interests last” and would “signal – no matter how it’s explained – that the U.S. is validating Israel’s claims to the entire city of Jerusalem.” Heaven forbid!
Miller also has harshly mocked supporters of Israel, writing in his book: “American Jews committed to Israel worry for a living – I call this the ‘cosmic oy vey’ syndrome, the tendency to worry about everything combined with an inability to distinguish what is really worth worrying about from what isn’t.” I wonder what the delegates to the American Zionist Movement conference think of that assertion.
Miller’s close colleague, Dennis Ross, played an active role in shaping the same policies – pushing for U.S. recognition of Arafat, downplaying Palestinian violations of the accords and, of course, constantly pressuring Israel behind the scenes to make more concessions.
As a senior aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ross pressured Israel to let Hamas bring concrete into Gaza. Here’s how Ross recalled it: “I argued with Israeli leaders and security officials, telling them they needed to allow more construction materials, including cement, into Gaza so that housing, schools and basic infrastructure could be built. They countered that Hamas would misuse it, and they were right.” That admission came six years too late.
Thanks to Ross’s pressure, Hamas built “a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, command posts and shelters for its leaders, fighters and rockets,” as Ross acknowledged. They built the tunnels with “an estimated 600,000 tons of cement,” some of which was “diverted from construction materials allowed into Gaza.” (Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2014)
During the past year, Ross has repeatedly pressed Israel to make significant concessions, in exchange for easily reversible rhetorical gestures by the Palestinians. In op-eds in the Washington Post and The New York Times, Ross demanded that Israel halt all Jewish construction in 92 percent of Judea-Samaria. In exchange, he argued, the PA should agree to “normalizing Israeli-Palestinian contacts.” Evidently Ross forgot the PA already agreed to have normal relations with Israel, in the 1993 Oslo accords. Why should Israel have to make more concessions to get something the PA was supposed to have been doing for the past 24 years?
Ironically, the American Zionist Movement conference at which Miller and Ross are scheduled to speak is titled “Zionism Forward in the Spirit of Balfour.” The Balfour Declaration affirmed the Jewish right to the Land of Israel. Yet Miller and Ross have devoted much of their professional lives to undermining and restricting Israel’s rights to Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria.
Moreover, the Balfour Declaration promised a “Jewish national home” and said nothing about any Palestinian Arab state. Yet these two State Department veterans remain devoted to badgering Israel into accepting the creation of a Palestinian state. That would mean pushing Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders, which would pose a grave danger to Israel’s very existence – precisely the opposite of the “Spirit of Balfour” the conference will celebrate.