Monday, February 28, 2011

Ross' Tepid J Street Reception

Ambassador Dennis Ross was the featured speaker at this morning's plenary session at the J Street conference. Ross' remarks focused mostly on Egypt, noting that while "President Obama recognized that the government had to take immediate action," that "The US can't dictate how others can run their countries."

Ross also "strongly supported" the Bahraini government's national dialogue initiative, though he noted it was a "first step only."

Ross noted that "now is not the time to cut aid to Egypt," garnering the first round of applause from the audience. He ended his speech commenting on Iran. He noted that "Iran has exposed its own hypocrisy," and that "Iran's efforts to resist negotiations will only lead to more pressure."

Immediately following Ross' comments and a brief Q and A with J Street board member Mort Halperin, a panel convened to discuss his comments. Moderated by Middle East Institute VP Kate Seelye, it included economist Bernard Avishai, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, and Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation. While Seelye's demeanor was her usual calm cool and professional, her panelists made no secret of their scorn for the Ambassador's comments. Bernard Avishai called for "More Dr. Kissinger and less Dr. Phil," equating neutral moderation by the US to therapy. Roger Cohen chastised Ambassador Ross for "sitting through five administrations but not an hour and a half of debate," and was clear about his view that "the Israeli repsonse has been extremely disappointing. Daniel Levy played to the crowd, noting, "Legitimacy and the removal of anxiety will only come when we no longer are denying another people its freedom."

The trio called for better American leadership as the solution. They generally supported Obama but called for him to go further in pushing Israel to a final status agreement.

The audience at the event was respectful of Ambassador Ross, but was clearly more supportive of the panel's views. There was no awkwardness at this particular panel, but neither was there resounding support for the Ambassador.

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