US Secretary of State John Kerry’s blundered diplomacy succeeded in making the next Gaza war more likely and Israeli-Palestinian peace more remote.
His cease-fire proposal looked like it was written by Hamas – actually it was drafted with the help of the terror group’s leading allies, Turkey and Qatar – and that infuriated three important American friends – Israel, Egypt and Fatah – not invited to Kerry’s drafting session in Paris.
Kerry flew out to the region – uninvited since neither Cairo nor Jerusalem wanted his help – anxious to find a quick solution but wound up making the problem worse.
His cease-fire proposal followed Hamas’ outline, agreeing to much of what the Islamist group sought.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Kerry, in his haste to get a quick cease-fire, committed a significant blunder that “solidified the role of Hamas” and undercut the role of Fatah, Egypt and Israel, all of which wanted to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.
Neither Kerry nor President Barack Obama seemed to give much thought to the full implications of their haste.
When Hamas rejected the Egyptian proposals, which Israel had accepted, Kerry turned to Hamas’ allies to craft a proposal that wound up infuriating the three American’s friends.
Kerry offered “arrangements” to meet Hamas’ demands to open border crossings, lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, pay salaries of its employees and economic assistance for reconstruction and recovery. Israel was demanding the dismantling of Hamas’ rocket arsenal and time to finish destroying the network of infiltration tunnels with an eye toward disarming Hamas and demilitarizing Gaza. The best Kerry and Obama had to offer was a vague promise to “ultimately” “address all security issues” at some later date.
Kerry’s proposal, unanimously rejected by Netanyahu’s cabinet, acknowledged Israel’s “right to defend itself” and said “Hamas is responsible for the conflict,” but Kerry shifted the focus from stopping the Hamas missiles to “avoid[ing] civilian casualties” – which were largely the result of Hamas using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields.
When Kerry went home empty-handed, Obama phoned Netanyahu to urge an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire to address “Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs.”
After the last round, Israel had been pressured to permit Hamas to import concrete and materials for civilian buildings.
Instead, hundreds of tons of cement were used to expand the extensive network of tunnels under the Israeli border.
A leading reason for economic distress in Gaza is not the blockade but that Hamas has used millions in foreign assistance to wage war against Israel rather than nation-building for Palestinians.
Already there are news reports that Hamas is talking to North Korea about replenishing its missile and rocket supplies; the shopping list will probably include more accurate guidance systems for their long-range missiles.
The administration made it known it was offended by leaks out of Israel – some suspect the prime minister’s office – criticizing what Jerusalem considered Kerry’s lopsided proposal, and it sent National Security Adviser Susan Rice to meet with national Jewish leaders in Washington Monday to deliver that message publicly and reiterate its commitment to Israel’s security.
The American Jewish community is largely on the sidelines, getting Congress to produce resolutions and letters of support for Israel and lobbying to increase military funding.
All of which will find their way into political fundraising appeals for this fall’s election.
Republicans have long sought to make support for Israel a partisan wedge issue, playing off their hawkishness against more dovish Democrats. That is reflected in a new Pew Research Poll out this week showing 60 percent of Republicans believe Hamas is most responsible for the current violence compared to 29% of Democrats; 26% of Democrats blame Israel.
On the policy front the Jewish community is focused largely on making sure political leaders fully back the Netanyahu government; they have little or no role – or interest? – in seeking solutions to the underlying problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That hasn’t always been the case. When more dovish prime ministers like Rabin, Peres, Barak, Olmert and even Sharon were pursuing accommodations with the Palestinians, many of those organizations were running interference of one sort or another.
At the outset of this round of warfare Netanyahu offered Hamas quiet-for-quiet and backed an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire; both were rejected. Had Hamas accepted it could have emerged with its tunnel network in tact, but it didn’t yet feel it had enough Jewish blood to show for its efforts.
Netanyahu – reluctantly, by most accounts – sent in ground forces and targeted what he called the “terror tunnels,” which are used for infiltrating terrorists and grabbing hostages. Now he wants to stay and finish the job.
One factor that may have influenced that decision was reports security services had found evidence of a planned Hamas offensive to infiltrate 200 terrorists during Rosh Hashana, seizing control of several Jewish communities in the Negev, killing as many others as possible and bringing back some as hostages. Some captured fighters this month were carrying wrist ties, syringes and tranquilizers for kidnappings.
Egypt, Fatah, the Saudis and some of the Gulf Arabs publicly condemned the Israeli invasion but all privately cheered it on in the hope that it could destroy the Islamist terror group that they all see as a threat to them as well.
Hamas is a greater danger to Fatah because they are rivals for leadership of the Palestinian national movement.
Despite a recent marriage of convenience each would prefer to see the other destroyed.
When Kerry showed up uninvited, Israel, Egypt and Fatah feared he would try to give Hamas the victory it couldn’t win on the battlefield. They were focused on the strategic opportunity to wipe out an enemy, the Americans were focused primarily on the humanitarian toll.
And none was really thinking of the day after the guns go silent. There were vague references in the Kerry proposal to dealing with “security issues” and economic recovery, but little more. Kerry would like to revive his failed peace mission but it is doubtful he would have the confidence of Jerusalem and Ramallah.
All the players on all sides of the conflict share a lack of vision and a preference for assigning blame rather than finding solutions, wrote Israeli author David Grossman in a New York Times op-ed this week. He lamented that his own government “wasted the years since the last conflict” without initiating dialogue with Hamas or at least moderate sectors of the Palestinian people and the Arab League, which could have helped “impose” a compromise on Hamas.
Peace with the Palestinians is “critical and urgent” for Israel, he wrote. “There is no military solution” to the conflict.