John Kerry arrives in Israel, July 23.
(photo credit: MATTY STERN, US EMBASSY TEL AVIV)
On Friday afternoon just before Shabbat began, the security cabinet unanimously rejected the conditions of a proposal that called for a week-long ceasefire.
And rightly so. The proposal was bad for Israel – and for those in the free world who wish to see violent Islamist extremists defeated – and good for Hamas and all that Hamas represents.
Not just hawks such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett were opposed.
So were Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid from the more dovish wing of the government.
The proposal, the details of which have since been leaked, would have prevented the IDF from continuing to locate and destroy tunnels that can be used to launch terrorist attacks on Israeli communities along the border with Gaza.
It would have also prevented the IDF from dismantling Hamas’s rocket capabilities. Nothing in the proposal mentioned the need to work toward the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, the only step that will bring long-term peace.
On the other hand, the proposal met Hamas’s demands, as though this terrorist organization – which has purposely thrust women and children to the front lines of the combat to maximize civilian casualties – were a legitimate partner in the negotiations, not a destabilizing force in the region that must be defeated. Hamas was to be granted an alleviation of the blockade on Gaza, a move that would enable it to restock its depleted military capabilities and set the stage for the next military confrontation.
What was truly astounding, however, was that the driving force behind the proposal was none other than US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry claimed that its content was based on a previous Egyptian cease-fire agreement.
But ministers in the security cabinet rejected that claim outright and noted that the proposal was lopsided in favor of Hamas, Egypt’s sworn enemy. The heavy-handed intervention of Turkey and Qatar, two of Hamas’s few supporters, was clearly evident.
Despite Israel’s immense displeasure with the proposal, which was communicated to Kerry, the secretary continued his biased treatment of the cease-fire negotiations.
On Saturday, he flew from Cairo to Paris to meet with his Qatari and Turkish counterparts. Also present were the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Britain and Italy.
Conspicuously absent were representatives from Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Why would Kerry agree to engage in talks with Turkey and Qatar – two countries openly hostile to Israel and supportive of Hamas’s terrorist agenda that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement with a caliphate run in accordance with a reactionary version of Islamic law? Isn’t the US supposed to be on the side of nations, such as Israel, that support freedom, democracy and equality and are enemies of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and its patrons?
What does this incident say about Kerry’s ability to confront other challenges to world security such as Iran’s nuclear weapon program? Since Kerry took over as secretary of state a year-and-ahalf ago, there have been a number of disputes between the US and Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu openly criticized Kerry’s support for the interim deal with Iran. During Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon derided Kerry’s security proposals along the Jordan border, calling the secretary “messianic” and “obsessive” about the prospects for peace.
But Kerry’s biased treatment of the cease-fire negotiations might lead to a new low in relations between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations. It did not have to be this way.
Opposition is growing in the Arab world to the senseless sectarian violence that has torn apart Syria and Iraq.
Increasingly, citizens of the region understand that terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State are the cause of infinite suffering. Egypt is openly aligned against the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Jordan is clearly concerned about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in its own country.
Kerry could take advantage of this trend to put pressure on Hamas and improve Israel’s defense. He has empowered Turkey and Qatar by giving them inordinate influence over the cease-fire negotiations. In the process, he has aligned himself on the wrong side of the battle against Islamic extremism.
It’s not too late for the secretary to change course and resume the US’s role of a fair and honest broker.