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Career diplomat Dennis Ross called for renewed confidence and commitment to diplomacy on Tuesday.

A more optimistic outlook is needed to ensure the success of future Arab-Israeli peace talks, Ambassador Dennis Ross said in a speech in Gaston Hall on Tuesday night.

“It is not hopeless if we perceive peacemaking with our eyes open, without illusions, and seek to build a foundation for peace,” Ross said.

In his address “Prospects for Peace: 2009 and Beyond in the Middle East,” sponsored by the Program for Jewish Civilization, Ross focused on the importance of understanding the context and history behind contemporary problems in the Middle East in order to devise plans for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ross, a seasoned diplomat in Middle Eastern policy, served as the director for policy planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush and special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, focusing directly on Middle East peace negotiations.

On Tuesday, Ross laid out a plan to re-energize peacemaking, focusing on current diplomatic negotiations taking place in a negative political context due to a lack of confidence in the possibility of peace from the Israeli and Palestinian public and their unwillingness to make lasting commitments.

“If what is being discussed in negotiations were being taken seriously, people would be out on the streets taking action,” he said.

In order to restore the public faith on both sides, Ross said peacemaking negotiations between Arabs and Israelis must not center on empty rhetoric, but create clear objectives for peace with set principles to which all parties must commit themselves.

He further emphasized the importance Arabs play in the peacemaking process, noting that Arabs have a history of approaching the peace effort passively.

“We need the Arabs to be a part of this track,” Ross said. “Their role cannot be limited to rhetoric and slogans.”

In addition to stressing the need for a change in public attitudes, Ross addressed a number of other issues that he said are integral to any discussion of the peacemaking process, including the role of Iran and Syria in regional diplomacy, the Palestinian economic predicament and security issues in both Palestinian and Israeli territory.

Ross also criticized recent U.S. attitudes toward negotiation.

“It was a mistake of the Bush administration to walk away from peacemaking for as long as it did,” he said.

He expressed hope for a new window of opportunity during the upcoming administration, urging the next president to approach efforts at peace with urgency and tenacity, engaging both Arabs and Israelis and publicizing the results of such negotiations to build public faith in the peace process.

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