Dennis Ross, widely seen as one of the few strong pro-Israel advisers in the Obama administration, has announced that he will be stepping down as a presidential adviser.
Ross’s departure comes as the Obama administration faces fresh criticism for private remarks last week between President Obama and French President Nicholas Sarkozy expressing hostility towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which were captured on an open microphone. It is not clear whether the controversy is related to Ross’s decision to leave.
Ross led efforts to promote the so-called Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority during the Clinton administration. He was brought into the Obama White House from the State Department in 2009, where he had been serving as an expert on Iran.
Ross and former Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell were given the task of reviving stalled peace talks. The two had divergent views on how to do so, with Mitchell reportedly favoring a tougher line against Israel and Ross insisting that Palestinian leaders live up to past commitments to fight terror and incitement. Mitchell’s departure earlier this year was thought to be, in part, a protest against Ross.
Ross also reportedly advised President Barack Obama not to confront Israel over housing construction in neighborhoods of Jerusalem which the administration–including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–refers to as “settlements.” He perceived–correctly–that such demands, which reversed previous understandings with the Israeli government and exceeded Palestinian demands at the time, would encourage Palestinian intransigence.
Pro-Israel groups, which have become frustrated with the confrontational stance the Obama administration has often adopted towards the Jewish state, saw Ross as a counterweight to Mitchell and to officials such as national security adviser Samantha Power, who is widely viewed as a critic of Israel.
Though the Obama administration won praise from pro-Israel groups for opposing a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations that would have destroyed the peace process, Ross’s departure suggests that controversy over the Obama administration’s stance towards Israel will continue.