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Peace-broker eyes state of Middle East: War has lent momentum to possible reform, Dennis Ross tells campus groups

By Amy Agronis on May 9, 2003 in University

The short war in Iraq has created a limited opportunity for reform across the Middle East, concluded Ambas-sador Dennis Ross in a visit to UC Davis last week.

In an address to faculty members affiliated with the UC Davis Institute of Governmental Affairs, Former Special Envoy to the Middle East Ross warned that Arabic reforms need to be instigated from within the Middle East nations and not imposed by the United States.

Ross visited UC Davis April 30 as a guest of Hillel at Davis and Sacra-mento, and Aggies for Israel. He was co-sponsored by several groups, including the IGA and the Campus Community Relations Office.

Ross, now director and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process for more than a dozen years during the first Bush administration and the Clinton years.

At the IGA luncheon, one of three talks he gave on campus, Ross predicted the atmosphere created in the war's aftermath could affect both Palestinian-Israeli peace prospects and political reforms in other Arab nations.

Ross said he sees momentum for changes in Middle East politics. The war has limited outside pressure from other Arab nations -- such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Syria -- for violence within Israel, since no one wants to irritate the U.S. military at the moment, Ross said.

In addition, with the overthrow of Hussein in Iraq, Israel's "Eastern-front threat" has been allayed to give the Israelis more psychological security in making peace with the Palestinians.

Furthermore, over the past year, reformists and moderates throughout the Middle East have been questioning their authoritarian regimes, Ross said, pointing to the work of journalists, reform politicians and others in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and in Palestine.

Swift victory opens door for peace

Arabs are in a state of shock over the swift U.S. victory in Iraq, Ross said. He explained that the Middle East shock was created, in part, because few in the Arab world expected Iraq to fall so fast and that this expectation was reinforced by news reports on the strength of the Iraqi defense shown on the Al-Jazeera network.

"There is a moment now for Palestine and Israel," he said.

The United States needs to be vocal with Middle Eastern leaders to support moderates looking for political reform and to reinforce the importance of U.S. values of accountability, justice, wom-en's rights and equality, Ross said.

International support needed

Ross also urged the United States to get other countries involved in managing the reconstruction process within Iraq, if only to avoid becoming the sole target of Iraqi wrath as "the occupier."

The United Nations can still play a role in the process, he said, pointing out that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is interested in getting the Iraqi reconstruction process under the United Nation's umbrella to repair his own relationships within Europe.

"And, ultimately, it is in the French and Russian interest to see that the United Nations is relevant," Ross said.

Even if the United States doesn't want France and Russia in Iraq, Ross said other U.S. allies, such as Canada, Sweden and Norway, all have long histories in peace-keeping and could be playing important roles in helping Iraq recover.

Ross also gave a talk Wednesday evening, "Building A Lasting Peace: The Road to Peace and Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict," and held a question-and-answer session with students at the Davis Hillel House.

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,