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No "ultimate deal" is currently possible for Mideast peace, says Dennis Ross

The Trump administration's plan to resolve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which in 2016 then-candidate Trump called the "ultimate deal" – lies out of reach until political circumstances on each side are better primed for a big agreement, according to former Middle East peace envoy and top negotiator Ambassador Dennis Ross.  

The administration's approach appears to be based on a "false premise," Ross, who served multiple presidents of both parties over the course of a career spanning over three decades, said. "That is, that you can go ahead and you can solve everything right now."

"The psychological gaps are so great. The disbelief is so great. The political circumstances on each side don't lend themselves to making big decisions," Ross said.

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In an interview with Intelligence Matters host and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell, Ross retraced his efforts to broker a peace agreement under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and explained how early missteps during the Obama administration seemed to derail prospects for a deal.

He also assessed the Trump administration's approach to solving the impasse – though few meaningful details about its proposal have been publicly shared.

"To be fair, I don't know the details of it because they haven't shared the details with anybody," Ross said, "including by the way, none of the Arab leaders that they would like to sign onto it. And if you don't share it, you don't give them a chance to have any input."

Ross spoke ahead of a reported trip to the Middle East by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner who, with other senior U.S. officials, is expected to visit six countries next week in an effort to bolster support for the administration's peace plan. The economic portion of the plan – a $50 billion regional investment proposal – was presented last month at a U.S.-convened summit in Bahrain; it was immediately rejected by Palestinian leadership.

"You should have an economic underpinning for anything you do – but the economic underpinning can't be the sole approach," Ross said. "Palestinians are already highly suspicious this is an effort to buy them off from their national identity. And because the administration won't say a Palestinian state, they won't even create for them the sense of a political horizon that recognizes their political identity, which is a mistake."

In remarks during a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East on Tuesday, the Trump administration's U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the negotiating team had been "clear and honest" about the fact the economic plan could only be achieved alongside a resolution to political conflict. "There will be no economic prosperity without a political solution. But no political solution will succeed without a well-developed economic plan," he said.

"President Trump has not yet decided when we will release the political portion of the plan, and we hope to make that decision soon," Greenblatt said.  

Ross said the Trump administration's apparent efforts to "adjust the Palestinian expectations downward" could be effective – but required some reciprocal incentive.

"The approach has been to meet Israel's symbolic needs – which by the way can be okay," Ross told Morell. "But you've got to meet some Palestinian symbolic needs."

"Both publics, Israelis' and Palestinians' alike today, have complete disbelief about whether any peace agreement, any two-state outcome, is possible," Ross said. "We have to reestablish a sense of possibility. I would like to see an American administration that would broker parallel steps by the two sides."

For much more from Michael Morell's conversation with Ambassador Dennis Ross, you can read the transcript here and subscribe to "Intelligence Matters" here.

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