Ross, Dennis

views updated


ROSS, DENNIS (1948– ), U.S. diplomat. Ross was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and grew up in Marin County in Northern California. Trained as a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ross worked on two presidential campaigns (Robert Kennedy and George McGovern) before settling into a career as a foreign policy professional. His first government assignments were working on U.S.-Soviet relations, arms control, and the Middle East during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Ross eschewed dogma and confrontational positions in favor of engagement and problem-solving through intensive, interest-based negotiations. His close relationship with Vice President George H.W. Bush at the end of the Reagan presidency led to his promotion to the senior ranks of American diplomacy following Bush's victory in 1988.

As director of Policy Planning under Secretary of State James Baker, Ross had substantial influence in shaping American policy toward the Soviet Union as the Cold War ended. Ross advocated U.S.-Soviet cooperation in promoting Arab-Israeli peace and was instrumental in organizing the 1991 Madrid peace conference–which led to the first sustained, multilateral peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Ross' behind-the-scenes approach, together with his widely regarded diplomatic skills, allowed him to make the transition to the Clinton Administration where he was named Special Middle East Coordinator. Following the signing of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian "Declaration of Principles" (the Oslo agreement), which was reached without American mediation, Ross' stature grew as American involvement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking intensified during the ensuing seven years. Ross did not favor American arbitration, intrusive monitoring, or explicit conditionality between foreign aid and the negotiations, though he advocated a stronger American position at the end of the Oslo process.

When Israeli-Palestinian negotiations reached an impasse, or when violence threatened to derail the process, Ross' involvement often reached a fever pitch. He led marathon negotiations that led to the signing of the Interim Agreement (1995), the Hebron Accord (1997), and the Wye River Agreement (1998). Ross worked closely with President Clinton, who became much more personally involved in the negotiations at the end of his presidency.

Ross believed strongly in the strategic importance of an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement and devoted significant attention to these negotiations, though the talks ultimately collapsed in early 2000. In the last months of the Clinton administration, Ross led an intensive effort to reach an Israeli-Palestinian "final status" agreement. But this final push for peace, which included the abortive Camp David summit in mid-2000, ended in failure as large-scale, sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence displaced the negotiations.

In his best-selling memoir, Missing Peace (2004), Ross blamed Palestinian leader Yasser *Arafat for the collapse of the Oslo process. After leaving government service, Ross took a senior position at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ross also became chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.

Although American Jews had previously served at the highest ranks of the foreign policy and national security establishment, they had generally not been granted overriding authority to manage U.S. diplomacy toward Israel and its neighbors. He was the first to attain such a dominant position and remained at the helm of America's peace process diplomacy under both Republican and Democratic administrations.


D. Ross, The Missing Peace, (2004); S. Lewis "The Receding Horizon: The Endless Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace," in: Foreign Affairs (September/October 2004); J. Heilbrun, "Dennis Ross and the Endless Peace Process," in: New Republic (July 8, 1996).

[Scott Lasensky (2nd ed.)]