BY BARAK RAVID AND NATASHA MOZGOVAYA, HAARETZ—
The growing frustration in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama over the apparent stall in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians continued to take its toll on Thursday, as the president’s Middle East adviser Dennis Ross stepped down from his post.
News of Ross’ resignation comes just months after U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell stepped down, and the departure of Dan Shapiro, senior director for the Middle East and North Africa of the U.S. National Security Council, ahead of his nomination as U.S. envoy to Israel.
It seems that the move also signals that, with an election year on his hands, the American president isn’t expected to invest too much of his time in the stalled Middle East peace process.
According to a New York Times report, Ross, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest ally in the Obama administration, announced his intention to resign during a luncheon with Jewish leaders, saying he was leaving to spend more time with his family.
In a statement published Thursday, Ross said that “After nearly three years of serving in the administration, I am going to be leaving to return to private life,” saying he was leaving “with mixed feelings.”
“It has been an honor to work in the Obama Administration and to serve this President, particularly during a period of unprecedented change in the broader Middle East,” the U.S. official said.
However, Ross said that he had his wife he “would return to government for only two years and we both agreed it is time to act on my promise.”
“I am grateful to President Obama for having given me the opportunity once again to work on a wide array of Middle Eastern issues and challenges and to support his efforts to promote peace in the region,” he added.
Speaking of Ross’ decision to step down, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that when Obama’s Mideast adviser “originally joined the Administration, he made it clear that given commitments to his family, he would remain for only two years.”
“In light of the developments in the broader Middle East, the President appreciates his extending that by nearly a year and looks forward to being able to draw on his council periodically going forward,” Carney added.
Asked how Ross’s departure will affect the peace process, he said: “I think you can expect us to build on the good work that he’s done here going forward.”
Carney added at the press briefing that Ross “was very much a part and an architect of the sanctions regime and the effort to pressure and isolate Iran and has been at the forefront of our deliberations about handling the Arab Spring, the remarkable events we’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa this year.”
“He’s certainly served his country and this administration, this president very well.
I think the fact that Dennis Ross, somebody with his remarkable experience and long service, stayed as long as he did give, how often he’s served in the past, is testimony to his dedication to the issues that he’s been involved in for so many years, his dedication to the administration, to this president,” he added
His tenure was plagued with tension with special envoy Mitchell. At times, the two refused to speak to one another, partly over Ross’ tendency to hold talks with Israeli officials behind Mitchell’s back. This was the case in September and November 2010, when Ross tried to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction in exchange to American assurances as well as a security aid package.
Palestinian officials, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, considered Ross to be Netanyahu’s representative in the White House. For a significant period, Ross refrained from meeting PA officials in Ramallah, often holding talks with Israeli officials only during his visits to the region.
He is a seasoned diplomat, serving as Mideast envoy during former President Bill Clinton’s two terms, from 1992 to 2000. He was also involved in Israel’s peace talks with Syria during the administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and had a central role in the implementation of the Oslo Accords.
Ross also filled a significant role in the talks leading up to the Hebron agreement and the Wye Riber Memorandum during Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minister, as well as during former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s talks with former PA chief Yasser Arafat in Camp David.