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Transcript: Dennis Ross talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - DENNIS ROSS
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCERS: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:
Dennis, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to have you on the show. And more importantly, it is great to see you.
DENNIS ROSS:
My pleasure, and really great to see you.
MICHAEL MORELL:
As you know Dennis, I asked you to be on the show today to talk about where we stand, or more importantly where we don't stand, on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But before we get to that, I want to get your sense on two other issues.
DENNIS ROSS:
Sure.
MICHAEL MORELL:
The first is the current confrontation between the United States and the Iranians. How dangerous? How did we get here? What should we do going forward? How do you think about this?
DENNIS ROSS:
You really raise, I think, not only an important question, but really looking at it from three different standpoints. The first one, which I think is the most important, is how did we get here? And I think the answer, ironically, is not that the Trump amendment walked away from the JCPOA. Because the Iranians adopt--
MICHAEL MORELL:
That's the Iranian nuclear deal?
DENNIS ROSS:
Right. The Iranians adopted a policy of strategic patience that basically, okay, the US walked away. It would try to outlast Trump. It would try to build on the isolation of the administration. And it would like to keep the Europeans and the Russians the Chinese, in a sense, on board with them. And so basically for one year, they did not walk away from any of the limitations in the Iran nuclear deal in the JCPOA. But when the administration made the decision to go ahead and end the waivers for eight countries that were allowed to buy Iranian oil, that's when we saw the Iranians basically flip the switch.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And that was some breathing space for them?
DENNIS ROSS:
Yes. What's a very interesting ironic point here is the State Department, one week before the decision on the waivers was finalized, assumed the decision was going to be to continue to keep them, because it went to those countries and said, "Okay, we're not ending the waivers," one week before. And I know this because basically I heard it from some of the countries.

And obviously, there was a reason they were doing this. Because from the State Department standpoint, we had the best of all worlds. The administration was putting real pressure on the Iranians. You can look at how much the economy has declined in real terms, how the public in a sense is being squeezed. The economy has been in free fall without ending the waivers.

So it was the best of both worlds, because there was pressure on the Iranians. And yet, the Iranians didn't have a reason to walk away from the JCPOA. Or at least they had made a decision not to do that. Now, the minute they walk away, as we begin to see it, then it puts the administration in position. Okay, what do you do in response? And what we see with this administration is it's doubling down on economic sanctions. It's tough rhetorical language.

But basically, when it comes to doing anything beyond that, that's not what this president wants to do. Look, one can't argue with not wanting to be in endless Middle East wars. That's obviously the right instinct. But you've got to be a little bit concerned that the nature of how the administration has adopted a position sends mixed signals to the Iranians. They made a decision. 'Okay, you're gonna squeeze us this much.' And by ending the waivers, what it did is the Iranians were in a position where they were still exporting about 1.1 million barrels a day of oil.

Definitely down from what they were doing before, almost by 50%. And yet, it still will generate enough revenue that all right, even if the economy is in trouble, the Iranian leadership felt they could manage this. Now, when the waivers were ended, that went from 1.1 million barrels a day of export to about 300,000. That's when the Iranians basically said, "Okay, they're putting maximum pressure on us. We're going to put maximum pressure on them."

And that's what we've seen. You see it along two different dimensions. Dimension number one is everything in the region. And here I would just flag -- John Bolton, the national security advisor, on May fifth said we had intelligence. This is of course after we made the decision on the waivers, which became effective the day before. May fifth, John Bolton declares we have intelligence that the Iranians and their proxy forces are going to threaten us. They need to know we're sending a carrier strike force there to the region.

And he said any threats against US troops directly, US interests, or America's friends in the region will be met with, I'm quoting, "relentless force." Now since that time, I mean, two days after that, you had an explosion in Yanbu, a Saudi port along the Red Sea. Two days after that, you had four tankers that had limpet mines attached to their hulls. Two days after that, you had Houthi drones that hit Saudi petroleum stations.

Obviously I'm establishing what is a pretty clear pattern. We had bases in Iraq where US forces were hit by, again, Shia proxy militia rockets. In Basra, we had an oil facility where Exxon was hit by the same, another attack on tankers, so forth and so on. That's one sign of the pressure. By the way, even though supposedly relentless force was going to be the answer to this, the other side was beginning the incremental walk away from the JCPOA, designed to put the administration in a position where, okay, here's the price that we can impose on you. What are you going to do?

And by the way, not responding to the shoot down of the drone was probably the right thing to do, because again, what's the strategy here? What was this a part of? What was your next step? But what the Iranians are seeing is, 'Okay, unless we kill Americans directly, we can keep doing this.' Now here, there's a real potential for miscalculation. What if Shia proxy forces kill American forces, say in Iraq, which is not impossible, or even in Syria, where we still have a presence even though it's reduced. The small size also increases its vulnerability.

So for me, I think there is a real risk of miscalculation and an escalation. Neither side may want it. But what we're seeing right now is both sides engaging in what I'll call a maximum pressure on the other, each expecting somehow that that will force the other to back down or take a step back.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Dennis, the second issue I wanted to ask you about quickly is the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Is there real hope here or not? How do you think about this?
DENNIS ROSS:
It's a wonderful question. I have to say that I have a fair degree of ambivalency here. On the one hand, talking about an endless war, this is it. Talking about a war that trying to remake Afghanistan has proven to be impossible for everybody who sought to do it. This is a war that has imposed just a terrible cost on the public. There's clearly war weariness. The negotiations that are underway, I do think, show promise. They probably do reflect a genuine fatigue on the part of all sides.

Now, having said that, the only reason for the ambivalency is not that I wouldn't like to see this end, not that I wouldn't like to see this actually produce something. I just wonder how much the Taliban has actually changed. And I worry about the emergence of genuine women's rights in Afghanistan coming out of what can only be described as a kind of medieval darkness that the Taliban represented when it controlled Afghanistan.

What worries me is the fact that the very same time that supposedly you had really a pretty remarkable exchange of views between those representing the Afghan government and society and those representing the Taliban in Doha. Really it seemed to be almost a cathartic kind of exchange of views. And yet the same time, you had attacks that killed kids in a school.

When both sides actually issued a statement where they explicitly said we have to stop this attack on women and children, and yet this took place at the same time. So the one question I have is do the people who are in these talks, do they either truly represent the Taliban? Or can they control the Taliban? And even though there's all sorts of promises about how women's rights will be respected, I just wonder what will happen. And I worry that, while the US should withdraw, I just wonder whether the Taliban isn't ultimately just biding their time. And it reminds me a little bit of the Vietnamese in terms of their view of negotiations with the United States in the 1970s.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Exactly what Bob Gates told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation about a month ago. 

Okay Dennis, the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I can think of no one who has devoted more of his or her professional career to the issue, and no one who knows more about it than you do. So I'm looking forward to what you have to say about this. Perhaps the place to start is with a question that I get asked by many people, including across the country when I travel. Does the peace process still matter, you know? How important is it to Israel's future? How important is it as a source of radicalization for extremism? How important is it to stability in the Middle East? How do you answer that question?
DENNIS ROSS:
Yeah. Look, there's no doubt that for years and years and years, the issue of Arab-Israeli, Israeli-Palestinian peace was seen as the core issue in the region. There was always a presumption that solve this problem and basically you solve the source of instability in the region. That was never true. Going back, I mean, my professor at UCLA was Malcolm Kerr. He wrote a book called The Arab Cold War in the mid 1960s.

And it was all about how there was a competition among the Arabs to see who would dominate the region. And they used the Palestinian issue as the club to beat each other over the head with. It was always a kind of instrument, as opposed to something that was the core of all the problems. Decade after decade, we've seen wars in the region that were unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Now, does that mean it doesn't matter? No.

It just means it was never the core problem of the region. There were all sorts of other reasons for conflict and instability. This was one among many. Now, would it be good to end it? Absolutely. Is it still an issue that somehow resonates an as issue of injustice? Absolutely. Do extremists try to exploit it? Yes, but it's clear it's not their main focus.

The reason to resolve it is because (LAUGH) A, you know, it would be good to show that a conflict that is seen by everyone who's intractable can actually be resolved. Psychologically, that has an impact in the region and elsewhere. That's number one. Number two: The Palestinians deserve to have a state of their own. They have a national identity. It's never going to be satisfied without a state. The Israelis will find the character of Israel change if they can't, at a minimum, separate from the Palestinians. I can understand well, if you're an Israeli today and you look around the region, and next door in Syria 500,000 dead, the Iranians and Shia proxy militias--
MICHAEL MORELL:
All over the place.
DENNIS ROSS:
All over the place embedding themselves. And they're not there because they want to have a picnic with you. They're not trying to move in close to the Golan Heights because this is a way of singing kumbayah with you. They're there for a reason. And the reason is to somehow find ways to continue to attack you. There's 130,000 Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon. There are ISIS elements in the Sinai. You have Hamas in Gaza. Israel withdrew 100% from Gaza, walked out of the settlements, took the Israeli military forces out, did not impose a quarantine on Gaza after they withdrew.

That didn't come until there was a coup by Hamas in Gaza 18 months later. Worried about what the future of the areas around you may be. And there's a sense that if you had a Palestinian state, it would end up being dominated by Hamas next year. So I understand most Israelis say, you know, "Why should we take a risk right now?" The issue, I think, for Israelis is not to lose the character of the state, not to have occupation also change who Israel is. The issue is to find a way to preserve the option of two states for later on.

You can't produce it right now anyway, partly because Palestinians are divided. You have the Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. You have Hamas controlling Gaza. They can't come to agreement among themselves. So it's pretty hard for Israel to come to an agreement with Palestinians when there is no consensus or unity on the Palestinian side.

In addition to that, if you look at the Palestinian Authority, it is characterized by deep corruption. 80% of the Palestinian public feels the Palestinian Authority is corrupt. Two thirds want Abu Mazen to resign. You have Palestinians positioning themselves for succession after Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Periods of succession are not a time when you see an impulse towards accommodation. You see a competition to see who can be more pure. So there isn't a two state outcome that can be negotiated any time soon. But from an Israeli standpoint, you can't lose the possibility of two states because you then have one state for two peoples. And that's not what the Zionist ethic was supposed to be. It was supposed to be about building a Jewish democratic state. So from an Israeli standpoint, preserving the option of separation is a key to preserving the option of two states later on.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Dennis, that's my view. I share that view. And I know many Israeli security officials that I've worked with over the years share that view. But is there a different view in Israel? Is there a view that's two states is actually the wrong answer?
DENNIS ROSS:
There is absolutely. They're not a majority. But because of the political system in Israel, where it's a coalition government, and where basically parties to the right of center probably represent, I would say, you know, maybe 52% or 53% of the Israeli public. And as we see frequently in places, we see you can have important minorities who may be critical to a coalition, and the coalition doesn't exist without them, who get disproportionate influence because of that.

And within Israel, you have certainly within the right wing, there is a perception, and I would say among the settler community, that basically there is no such thing as a Palestinian state that won't end up being a mortal threat to Israel. Whatever you say about it, there's no insurance. There's no guarantees for it. Sooner or later, you'll end up with a kind of Hamas dominated state.

That state will never accept Israel. And it will continue to try to carry out attacks against it. You're putting Israel in a position where it will be mortally threatened if it withdraws from the West Bank. And so look, it's not a point of view that can be dismissed. There is an irony that the vast majority of those who have served in the IDF, in the senior officer corps, those who served in Mossad, those who served in Shin Bet, uniformly they believe it's in Israel's interest to have a two state outcome, even if it can't be achieved any time soon.

In fact, you have one group called Commanders for Peace and Security, 200 ex-senior officers who basically say, "Let's separate." They're not saying we can produce a Palestinian state any time soon. But well, they're saying, "For the sake of our future, for the sake of our security, we need to find a way to separate." So yes, there is a constituency that believes that it is against a two-state outcome because they believe it'll always be a threat to Israel. But it is interesting that the vast majorities that have made their careers providing for and committing to ensuring Israeli security don't believe that is an outcome.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Dennis, I wanna get to the Trump administration's approach. And I also think that history's important. So before we get to where we are today, I'd love to get your sense of how we got here. And obviously we could start at many different (LAUGH) points in history. But maybe the place to starts is the negotiations as the end of the Clinton administration. What happened? And then what happened during the Bush administration and the Obama administration? And what did President Trump find when he came to office?
DENNIS ROSS:
So it's a lot to cover. But I'll do it. I'll try to telegraph it. At the end of the Clinton administration, we were arguably the closest we have ever been to producing a peace agreement. Probably the biggest turning point was not getting the agreement with Syria when we were extremely close. You know, often times I've said that this is a conflict where the parties have never been in sync. When one side's been prepared to move, the other has not been.

The only time ever that the Syrians were actually prepared to do a deal, there was a very short window: December 1999, January of 2000. And at that point, Ehud Barak wasn't prepared to move as quickly as Assad. We went to Shepherdstown. The Syrians actually moved on every issue. Barak felt, I think, for some understandable reasons, that he had to show it was not easy because the Golan Heights is a strategic plateau. And Colin Powell once said if he were an Israeli, he wouldn't give it up.

So it wasn't a simple thing to give up. And it couldn't look like it was easy to give it up. The problem was that the only reason Assad was doing it was because he knew he was dying. And he wanted this issue to be taken care of for his son. When he became convinced after Shepherdstown, when there were criticisms of his foreign minister for being prepared to concede to the Israelis when the Israelis weren't responding, he understood that this was coming from security elements and that would threaten his son.

So he didn't do the deal. Why do I raise this? Had that deal been done, then it would have put the Palestinians in a position, would have put Arafat in a position, where Israel had peace with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It would have put the Palestinians in a position where it would have been very difficult for them not to make an agreement, particularly because we had a commitment from the Saudis, if the peace deal was done with the Syrians, they would establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

So we have a situation where we don't succeed with the Syrians. Israel withdraws from southern Lebanon unilaterally. Hezbollah claims that they drove the Israelis out through resistance, violent resistance. You can get the Israelis to withdraw. They produce everything and Arafat produces nothing. The worst meeting I ever had with Arafat was immediately after the Israeli withdrawal.

It was May 22nd of the year 2000. Worst meeting I ever had with him was right after that. This is a guy who never swore. And he used four letter words for ten minutes and didn't repeat himself. He was so angry because he felt this made him look weak. I believe the second Intifada was born then. I believe he made a decision, "Okay, what we're going to do is we're going to launch our own resistance against the Israelis. And it'll be violent. And this will force the Israelis to concede more to me. And then I'll look like I achieved the way Hezbollah did."

He made a terrible miscalculation. We went to Camp David in July. This was about six weeks after this. He said no to everything. Barak was prepared to make very far reaching concessions. We made a proposal. He said no to everything. In the aftermath of that, we had negotiations that looked promising. And by the way, because of that, we were prepared. Again, I should say it looked promising.

But it was with all the negotiators for Arafat. We never saw anything directly from Arafat. And I was seeing him. And I was always troubled by the fact that I didn't hear anything new or different from him. I did from his negotiators, which made me somewhat more hopeful. We had several different exchanges. And because of that, I was prepared to recommend to the president that we would present what would be a proposal that ended up looking a lot like the Clinton parameters which we presented in December, the end of September.

Instead, the second Intifada broke out. And, you know, while it didn't produce bombings during the Clinton administration, it waits until the Bush administration. Nonetheless, it began a process of violence. And Barak said, "I can't make concessions in the face of violence." In the end, we helped to establish a back channel, which greatly reduced the violence.

And so by December, we were prepared to have the parties come here. And we presented the Clinton parameters. I still recall before presenting them, Bandar bin Sultan was the Saudi ambassador to the United States. And I sat with him. And I went through what we were likely going to present. And he said to me something that was quite prophetic. He said, "If the Palestinians don't accept this, this won't be a mistake. It'll be a crime."

And when you look at what's happened since, it's hard to conclude anything else. Interestingly enough, just one other little anecdote. I only discovered a little over a year ago, when I was having dinner with one of the former Palestinian negotiators, that with whole Palestinian delegation that was here when they got the Clinton parameters, and I went over them after the president presented them. I went over word for word to be sure they had it exactly.

Every one of them agreed they should accept it. And they agreed that they should go in as a delegation to see Arafat and present it that way. One of the Palestinians who didn't come but got enough of a briefing of what was in it, who was back with Arafat, went in and said, "They're going to come in. They've all betrayed you." And so when they walked in as a group, he said, "You're all traitors."

And so they ended up rejecting the Clinton parameters, believing somehow that they could hold out, that second Intifada would produce more. And in the end, we know it produced just the opposite. The Bush administration comes in. President Bush looks at what Clinton did. Bill Clinton was intimately involved in this. Threw--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Personally?
DENNIS ROSS:
Yes, threw himself into it, completely believed in it, in no small part because he a kind of obligation to the memory of Rabin. He had told Rabin in March of 1993--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Former Israeli prime minister?
DENNIS ROSS:
Right. You take--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Fascinating.
DENNIS ROSS:
--risks for peace. My job is to minimize those risks. And he's assassinated. So he felt an obligation, a burden. And so that's why he becomes deeply involved in this. Bush looks at it and says, "Boy, I can't do what Clinton did, meaning I'm not going to involve myself that way. I'm never going to learn those issues the way he learned those issues. I'm not going to spend the time on it. And if he couldn't do that, given everything he did, then it just can't be done."

And so basically for four years, really longer, until the seventh year of the Bush administration, they pretty much walked away. From time to time they would be involved. They never had an envoy. They never had anybody who played the role that I did. And Condi Rice, Secretary of State, begins to play that role in 2007. But up until that time, it's still largely hands off.

And it was precisely because they walked away that you saw the Intifada get dramatically worse. I've often said a peace process may not always be measured by its success. Sometimes it should be measured by what it prevents. We had a second Intifada where over 4,000 Palestinians died, 1,000 Israelis died. The scars of that are still felt, because it killed the peace camp in Israel.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So then happens in the Obama administration?
DENNIS ROSS:
The Obama administration comes in. And the president feels, you know, all right the Bush administration neglected this for too long. And when they finally get involved in it, it's kind of too little too late. So we're going to be involved from day one. And he appoints George Mitchell on the second day of the administration as the envoy for this.

But then a mistake is made from the very beginning of the administration. And that is a demand to the Israelis that they do a freeze on all settlement activity including natural growth. Now, the Palestinians took that demand and said, "Okay, look. We can't accept anything less than that." Abu Mazen, later the US, the Obama administration, put him up a tree. How could he be softer on this issue than the administration was?

Now, the administration will say, with some justification, it didn't say it was a condition for negotiation. But it felt it would affect the atmosphere. The problem with the decision was it allowed the Palestinians to say, "We don't have to do a thing until you produce that." Put the Arabs in the same place. And it was a standard that couldn't be met, you know?

As you'll recall, I was working for the first six months of the administration only on Iran. And after six months, I was asked to go to the White House by the president and do all Middle East issues including this one. I understood, and I told him this. The problem we have is it was right to impose a limitation on settlement activity. It was wrong to say no settlement building whatsoever including natural growth, because that's a standard nobody could meet.

It also meant we were measured by it. And it gave the Palestinians and the Arabs an excuse to do nothing until we delivered. And we couldn't deliver that. Had we defined a limitation on settlement activities, we could have defined what success was. That was a huge problem which I felt we never overcame in the Obama administration.

You'll recall we could never get back. We went until 2010. We had one month of direct negotiations. And that came at the end of ten months of an Israeli moratorium on new start. And when the Israelis didn't extend it, then Abu Mazen walked away from the negotiations. The truth is we never really overcame what was that standard. And basically, in the second term, John Kerry made an effort.

I will say I was involved in a back channel. And the back channel actually was quite productive in the sense that we produced a paper which was a paper, largely, that John Kerry ends up using. But in the end, again, there's a failure. And the true reason for the failure is the gap between the parties psychologically and substantively grew. You know, I look at this today.

During the worst of the Second Intifada, you still had contacts not limited to the security elements on both sides. Today, the only contact is between the security elements. And while that security coordination in critical, and it should be built on, there's no political dimension whatsoever. That's much worse than it used to be.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So the Trump administration's approach and where we're at today?
DENNIS ROSS:
Yeah, well, the Trump administration approach is the ultimate deal, the deal of the century. And it's based unfortunately, I think, on a false premise. 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. And the problem is by focusing only on the top down, instead of bottom up, what you're basically producing is no prospect, no possibilities.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Do you have an understanding of what this big deal is that they want to put on the table?
DENNIS ROSS:
Well, I have a sense. To be fair, I don't know the details of it because they haven't shared the details with anybody, 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. And if you, you know, I mean, I often say that when you spring diplomatic surprises, unless you're transforming the world, you drive everybody into their fetal positions. They go on the defensive.

The essence of what I think they're trying to do is twofold. In principal, it's not wrong. You should have an economic underpinning for anything you do. But the economic underpinning can't be the sole approach. 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.

Look, statehood can take all sorts of different forms. You know, you wouldn't say that Germany isn't a state just because the US has bases in Germany. There can be different kinds of limitations on sovereignty that still doesn't take away from being a state. In any case, I think the essence of what they're trying to do is they've tried to adjust the Palestinian expectations downward.

Again, not necessarily the wrong thing to do. But if you're going to do that, you also have to be giving something at the same time. And that's not what the approach has been. The approach has been to meet Israel's symbolic needs, which by the way can be okay. But you've got to meet some Palestinian symbolic needs. And you can't totally cut off all assistance to them at the same time. I mean, what we're seeing is the Trump administration approach to negotiations is always maximum pressure. The idea is maximum pressure will soften up the other side. And then they'll come to the table. We're still waiting to see an example that that works--
MICHAEL MORELL:
Of success, yes, yes.
DENNIS ROSS:
Now, in the Palestinian case, I think they would like to, in a sense, offer the Palestinians less than what we've seen in the past, less than the Clinton parameters, probably more than people think. I still think they're probably likely if they come with a plan. I'm not sure they will anymore, because at this point, they won't come until there is a new Israeli government. The Israeli elections won't be until September. My guess is it'll be November before you can actually see a government.

Will they then still present the plan at that point in our election cycle? I'm not so sure, because they have said all along both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, will like some of the plan and dislike some of the plan. That means from their standpoint, some of their base here may not be happy if they think that they're asking the Israelis to take certain steps that will be difficult for them. So will they still present the plan? I don't know.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Dennis, I guess the fundamental question then is how do we get to a point where we can make progress again? And I should mention here that you have a new book coming out on September third called Be Strong and of Good Courage that I think gets to the heart of what I just asked you.
DENNIS ROSS:
I think the key right now is we have to focus on separation between Israelis and Palestinians. The essence of separation means if Israelis and Palestinians are in a sense politically separated and geographically separated enough that this is sustainable, then you can have two states somewhere down the road. Two states, as I said earlier, is not achievable any time soon.

But there is a danger that if Israel keeps building outside of the settlement blocks, and the concept of settlement blocks goes back to the spring of 2000 before we went to Camp David. It's something I helped to develop. The whole idea was, look, you have 80% of the Israeli settlers live on about 4% to 5% of the West Bank closest to the green line, the June 4, '67. So we came up with a concept.

Let's thicken that area. Let's absorb the 80%. And then let's compensate the Palestinians with territory. So that uses swaps, our response to the settlement blocks. So if the Israelis build in settlement blocks, that doesn't compromise a two state outcome. If they build outside what would be the settlement blocks, it begins to make it impossible.

We are at a state today where 105,000 Israelis live to the east of the security barrier. If that continues, you're going to hit a tipping point where you lose the ability to separate. So the key to the future is stop building outside the blocks. That allows you to preserve the separation option. Now, it's not enough. We need to have an approach where we change the atmosphere, where we begin to restore a sense of possibility.

Both publics, Israelis and Palestinians alike today, have complete disbelief about whether any peace agreement, any two-state outcome, is possible. 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. On the Israeli side, they could stop building outside the blocks. And the reason they're doing it is to say we're preserving the option of two states.

That would send a big message. On the Palestinian side, if they would acknowledge there is a historic Jewish connection to the land, that would have a huge psychological effect on the Israeli side. So we can come up with these kinds of parallel steps that each side would take. Neither side has to make a concession to the other, which neither is prone to do right now. In a sense, we would produce a kind of simultaneity. That would begin to show that something is possible. And it would begin to give both publics a reason to take a second look. With separation, that's what I think we should be doing.
MICHAEL MORELL:
It takes a big step by both sides, though, in a difficult political environment for both.
DENNIS ROSS:
It does. And that's why, in a sense, you need an administration that is sensitive to what are the political constraints on each side and how these steps-- I picked these two deliberately, because they're what would affect, psychologically, both publics. You know, but there are other things that certainly could be done. I mean, if the Israelis at the same time were to say not only will we not build outside the blocks, but we're saying the reason we won't do that is because we're also not going to apply Israeli sovereignty to the east of the barrier.

So that would cement that idea that, okay, maybe we should rethink this. On the Palestinian side, they continue to pay the families of those who are in Israeli jails for carrying out acts of violence or terror against Israelis. That looks like pay for slay if they would move against that. And by the way, there's a simple thing for them to do.

They have a social welfare ministry. And they provide payments to families that are in need. Provide an equal approach to all families. Right now, they give more money to the families of those who are in Israeli jails. And they give them priority. Just say, "Okay, look, we're going to meet their needs. But we're not going to give them priority over everybody else who's in need."
MICHAEL MORELL:
And somehow we have to get away from the idea, right, that's become, I think, commonplace that anything that you give to the Palestinians somehow undermines Israeli security at the end of the day, when in fact you believe quite the opposite.
DENNIS ROSS:
Look, I'll tell you one example of this. The Palestinians have built a city in the West Bank called Rawabi. It's about ten minutes from Ramallah. It is a city that every Israeli should see. It's a city that is designed to build a genuine middle class among the Palestinians in the West Bank. I asked one of the developers of it, who's a guy in his mid 30s, I said, "What are your hopes for this?" And he said, "I want to give Palestinians a reason to live to live, not live to die." Now, the Israelis have not done what they could have to make it easier to build that city. Here's a classic example of sometimes allowing investing in the Palestinians could be an investment in your own future.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Dennis, thanks for being with us.
DENNIS ROSS:
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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