It takes a certain artistry to irritate and annoy not only the Israeli left and the Israeli right at the same time, but also both Jerusalem and Ramallah.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has found that artistry.
“We've got to get over there,” Kerry said about the Gaza crisis during a “hot mic” incident last Sunday while waiting to be interviewed on Fox News. “We ought to go tonight. I think it's crazy to be sitting around.”
And, indeed, Kerry did not sit around. He quickly flew to Cairo, then to Israel, then back to Cairo, then to Paris trying to broker a cease-fire. He came, he saw, he muddled.
You know something is amiss when both the left wing Haaretz newspaper's Barak Ravid and the right wing Israel Hayom's Boaz Bismuth write columns saying that Kerry is making a merry mess of matters; and when both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on the left flank of the security cabinet, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, on the right, agree that Kerry's cease-fire proposal was a disaster.
And if that is not evidence enough, consider the following: not only were Israeli officials saying that the US cease-fire proposal put forward Friday, and unanimously rejected by the eight-person securty cabinet, would have strengthened Hamas, but Palestinian Authority officials on Sunday were quoted as saying the same thing in the pages of the Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper.
According to the London-based, Saudi backed paper, PA officials complained that Kerry's efforts were helping the Hamas-Qatar-Turkey axis at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, who – like Israel – are interested in seeing Hamas' wings seriously clipped.
Nobody should have been too surprised that Israel's unilaterally declared humanitarian cease-fire on Saturday night was violated by Hamas rockets and mortars. Kerry's proposals over the weekend gave the organization a second wind.
Toward the end of last week Hamas appeared to be limping, if not yet on the ropes. All its efforts to strike Israel with rockets failed, as did its attempts to carry out a “spectacular” terrorist action that would alter the balance. In addition, pictures emerged of Hamas prisoners stripped down to their underwear under IDF guard. Also, the world's airlines resumed their flights to Israel, after briefly stopping.
Coupled with the IDF's crushing blows, and the discovery and neutralization of one tunnel after the next, the organization did not seem in a position to demand cease-fire conditions.
And then Kerry presented a proposal to Israel that included many of Hamas’ demands – as presented by Turkey and Qatar - but none of Israel’s.
There were specific calls to open the border and non-border crossings, allow the entry of goods and people, ensure the social and economic livelihood of the Palestinian people in Gaza, extend fishing rights, transfer funds for public employee salaries -- all Hamas demands.
As to israel's demands, there was a call to “address security issues.” There was no particular call, however, to de-commission the tunnels; no demand for demilitarization; no turning over Gaza from Hamas to the PA.
This provided Hamas with a badly needed tailwind. Sure, they were getting clobbered, their human shields were dying, but they were getting what they wanted. The world was talking to them, recognizing their standing in Gaza, presenting their demands. Why stop, things were going their way. And, indeed, they didn’t stop, and violated three different cease fires Saturday night and Sunday, including one that they themselves declared.
And then on Sunday, in interviews to the US Sunday news programs, Netanyahu said publicly that the only proposal on the table was not Kerry's, but rather the Egyptian proposal of two weeks ago.
Beyond illustrating Kerry's bungling, this whole incident also brings to mind an incident from Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
Just over a week after Israel launched that offensive at the height of the second intifada and moved back into the major West Bank cities, then-US President George Bush lost patience with Israel and said he expected prime minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw “now, not tomorrow.”
Bush’s national security adviser at the time, Condoleezza Rice, backed up her boss and said that Israel's insistence to continue pressing forward with the operation, despite Bush’s wishes that it end, was hurting Washington’s credibility.
“The US is putting a lot on the line here," she said. "The president said to prime minister Sharon: 'I really ask you to listen to me as a friend. I really ask you to think of the consequences of what you're doing here, and it's important it must end without delay.' The president several times yesterday used the word 'now'."
Sharon's answer: Israel would continue to “fight relentlessly” against terrorism. The Prime Minister’s Office at the time said that Israel would continue to “take all the necessary measures to uproot the terrorist infrastructures.”
Israel did eventually withdraw from the major Palestinian cities it moved into during the operation, but it took about another month before it did so.
There are those voices in the US already calling Israel’s rejection of Kerry’s proposal, and the harsh Israeli criticism of his recent efforts, as a sign of ingratitude. How dare, these voices say, Israel be so critical and disrespectful of a man who has its interests so close to heart? How dare it say no to the US, which funded the Iron Dome system that saved so many lives?
How? Because Israel views its interests differently, and when it feels its vital interests are on the line, will act as it sees fit – whether the voices calling for a withdrawal or cease-fire belong to George Bush and Condoleeza Rice, or Barack Obama and John Kerry.
Netanyahu foreshadowed this thinking on July 11, some four days into the operation, when he held a brief press conference. Referring to his rejection of US security assurances for the Jordan River as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said something that could aptly be applied to Israel's rejection, and criticism, of Kerry’s handling of the current ceasefire proposals as well.
“I told John Kerry and General [John] Allen, the Americans’ [security] expert, ‘We live here, I live here,” Netanyahu said. “I know what we need to ensure the security of Israel’s people.’”