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Dennis Ross tells Al Arabiya: Assad is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranians

Published: Updated:

I cannot see any peace agreement with Syria so long as Iran, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias are embedded there, diplomat and author Ambassador Ross told Al Arabiya, adding that there is little prospect of Iran ever leaving Syria.

“I think that Bashar al-Assad is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranians, more of the Iranians than the Russians because the Iranians are embedding themselves,” Ross told Al Arabiya’s Washington Bureau Chief, Nadia Bilbassy, in an exclusive interview.

“They [Iranians] are embedding themselves physically on the ground at different places. They are changing certain parts of the country demographically,” he said.

Ross said that the idea that you could have peace with Syria as long as Iran is increasingly dominant in Syria is an illusion.

On Golan Heights, he said that the problem with the recognition of the sovereignty is that very few would say Israel shouldn’t control the Golan, with Iran embedding itself in Syria.

“Given everything that Iran invested in Syria, I see very little likelihood that anybody gets Iran out of Syria,” he said.

Ross said that the problem with the Palestinian issue is that if there is an annexation of settlements outside the block areas then you begin to create a circumstance where you cannot separate the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“The issue here is going to be how do you preserve the option of separation even if you can’t produce a two-state outcome any time soon”, he said.

Because the psychological gaps between the two sides [Israelis and Palestinians] are so profound, Ross said, “You cannot really produce two states any time soon”.

“But you want to preserve the option and that requires you to be able to separate Israelis from Palestinians and if you start annexing all of the smaller settlements, that becomes profound and more difficult,” he said.

Ross admitted that Jerusalem has always been the most difficult issue emotionally and symbolically. “If you ask me is there a way to resolve the issue of Jerusalem, my answer would be ‘difficult but still possible,’” he said.

Ross said that as part of Clinton Parameters – guidelines for a permanent status agreement to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict – it was established as a principle that what is Jewish through all of Jerusalem will be Israeli and what is Arab would be Palestinian.

However, the question of “Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount”, he said, “is more difficult than all the other issues.”

He also said that a significant part of Jerusalem will always be Israel’s capital but also acknowledged that the 250,000 Palestinians living there have claims, needs, and rights.

Moreover, according to him, an outcome cannot be reached if the Palestinians aren’t part of the negotiations.

“No one is going to substitute for the Palestinians. The question is what is the aim of the [American] administration? Is it to impose a deal or is it to present a plan that could provide a basis for negotiations?” he asked.

According to Ross, if the Arab leaders – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco – agree to the language “we have questions about the plan but it is a serious basis for negotiations, the Europeans will say the same.”

In this scenario, Ross said, “it will be very difficult for Mahmoud Abbas not to go to the table”.

“So if that’s the approach, they have a chance to resume the diplomacy and we need to see diplomacy resumed,” he said.

“I think recognizing Golan as being sovereign Israeli territory makes it more difficult for Arab leaders to be responsive to the administration,” said Ross in the interview.