As a former top US diplomat who through the years has been accused of being too close to the Jewish cause in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross does not seem one-sided. He readily accepts Israel has an “achilles heel”.

“I do agree with that,” Ross says, referring to Israel’s expansion of settlements into areas of the occupied West Bank not contemplated previously.

It disturbs this former Middle East co-ordinator for Bill Clinton and special adviser to Barack Obama that the Israeli government has pushed housing developments well beyond the main settlement blocs on land occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.

According to Ross, the main settlement blocs that take up about 4 per cent of occupied West Bank territory could conceivably stay in Israeli hands as part of any future peace deal.

But the reach of newer settlements has fuelled angry claims among Palestinians and their supporters that Israel’s incumbent government is not interested in land handovers or swaps, and not serious about the proposed creation of a neighbouring Palestinian state with defined borders.

During the past fortnight Ross has visited Australia as a guest of two local Jewish community groups, the Melbourne-based Anti-Defamation Commission and Gandel Philanthropy, when debate over the Middle East conflict is fiercer than it has been for years.

Read the full article by Brad Norington at The Australian (subscription only).

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