Opinion: Kerry error hampers long-term pact

July 29, 2014


— Secretary of State John Kerry has made a significant mistake in how he’s pursuing a Gaza cease-fire — and it’s not surprising that he has upset both the Israelis and some moderate Palestinians.

Kerry’s error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey. In the process, he has undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.

A wiser course, which Kerry rejected in his hunt for a quick diplomatic solution, would have been to negotiate the cease-fire through the Palestinian Authority, as part of its future role as the government of Gaza. Hamas agreed last April to bring the PA back to Gaza as part of a unity agreement with Fatah that was brokered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry has been motivated by two understandable short-term needs: First, he wants to stop the horrific slaughter in Gaza, with its heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians, including children. Second, he seeks to fulfil the instructions of President Obama, who wants an immediate cease-fire and has become skeptical about solving the knotted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry’s approach has ignited a firestorm in Israel, with commentators left and right accusing him of taking Hamas’ side and betraying Israel. That criticism is unfair, and it prompted a complaint Sunday from Obama in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry’s mistake isn’t any bias against Israel, but a bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal. A case can be made for this “kick the can down the road” approach, as I did last week in discussing Kerry’s recent diplomatic negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and with rival political leaders in Afghanistan.

But Gaza has suffered from a generation of brutal expediency. Any deal that reinforces Hamas’ stranglehold — rather than building a path toward change of government, elections and eventual disarmament — is misconceived. In the name of stopping bloodshed this week, it all but guarantees it in the future. That’s why public opinion polls show a strong majority of Gazans back the idea of returning to Palestinian Authority control — because they want an end to the cycle of intermittent warfare.

Israel has undermined its own cause with statements that appear to be insensitive to Palestinian loss of life. One example is Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s claim that “the Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize” for showing “unimaginable restraint,” at a time when photos and videos provide wrenching evidence of civilian casualties in the densely packed cities of Gaza.

Kerry’s initial plan was to support Egypt’s demand that Hamas accept a cease-fire. When Hamas rejected what it viewed as surrender, Kerry turned away from Egyptian mediation toward Turkey and Qatar, which as friends and financial backers of Hamas were thought to have more leverage. That put the deal first, and a stable solution to Gaza’s problems second.

By turning to Turkey and Qatar, Kerry also enhanced their position in the regional power game. That’s contrary to the interests and desires of America’s traditional allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the moderate Palestinian camp headed by Abbas.

If Kerry has been shortsighted about seeking a path toward a more stable Gaza, so has Netanyahu’s government. The Israeli prime minister denounced the Palestinian unity agreement forged by Abbas last spring, even though it opened the way for an alternative non-Hamas government. More important, Netanyahu consistently has failed to give Palestinian moderates concessions that might enhance their power in both the West Bank and Gaza. When Palestinians heard Netanyahu say recently that Israel must maintain military control of the West Bank for decades, they ask: What’s the point of negotiating a two-state solution?

Whether Kerry gets a permanent cease-fire or not, the same basic issue will haunt Gaza going forward, which is how to establish the Palestinian Authority as a responsible government that actually controls the territory. Israelis fear that the PA might operate on the Lebanese model — with Hamas maintaining a deadly militia, just as Hezbollah does in Beirut.

That’s the right long-term question to be negotiating — and it’s where Kerry should be spending U.S. diplomatic capital, rather than in another pursuit of the interim deal.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


MerriAnnie Smith 3 years, 5 months ago

Readers should be aware that this is just an opinion - not expert analysis.

And the writer is obviously conservative, therefore his opinion isn't worth the effort you took to read it.

However, it's fun to read and see the holes in it.

Whether Kerry's efforts are worthless or not depends on a lot of things, most importantly... time. In time we will see the full picture if it is not somehow distorted.

It is pretty well-known that conservatives in this country support Israel in anything they do, regardless of whether it was ethical or not. And conservatives tend to appreciate war and all it's gory effects on women and children.

Kerry is not a conservative. He's a moderate Democrat working for a moderate president. Israel knows that Democrats don't just approve of everything Israel does regardless of how wrong it might be. Though even Democrats tend to support Israel, especially over a terrorist Hamas - because Hamas hates America.

We need to be aware of the complexity of this situation before we judge the efforts of Kerry.

Flat-out partisan judgments are worthless, or worse than worthless. They can be harmful to the truth.

Joshua Cain 3 years, 5 months ago

"It is pretty well-known that conservatives in this country support Israel in anything they do, regardless of whether it was ethical or not. And conservatives tend to appreciate war and all it's gory effects on women and children." - MerriAnnie Smith

You are aware that the president started a war with Libya right? He also continues to authorize signature drone strikes that kill civilians, continued bombing in Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and has given material assets i.e. weapons to ISIS via the FSA?

Oh and this gem: http://antiwar.com/blog/2013/10/01/obama-waives-ban-on-sending-military-aid-to-countries-with-child-soldiers/

Now, what was it you said about gory effects on women and children?

Please apply a consistent standard to both parties, it's so easy to do and the opportunity to hammer both for the same bad behavior is a plenty.

Bob Smith 3 years, 5 months ago

You could remove "error" from the headline and it would still be true.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

Netanyahu is a poor example of an Israeli citizen. In reality he is a graduate of the Bush extended family of politicians war machine. I believe he also graduated from Yale and might be a Skull and Bones member. Netanyahu has spent a good deal of time in USA politics.

In my mind Netanyahu is supporting this blood and guts policy.

--- Bush family of politicians "Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination. Many PNAC members held highest-level positions in the George W. Bush administration.


Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

Reagan started the wars with Libya,Iraq and such in the 80's. Americans never left and after 34 years the wars rage on.


Joshua Cain 3 years, 5 months ago

"Reagan started the wars with Libya,Iraq and such in the 80's. Americans never left and after 34 years the wars rage on." - Dick Heckler

And every democrat president in between shares the blame. This whole "well....so and so started it" may be well placed in the proper context but to continue the military aggression is to be complicit in the same crime.

Lets take the current administration. Candidate Obama said the first thing he would do as president was to get out of Iraq. So what happened? The status of forces agreement expired and we left years later. This was despite the administrations efforts to do exactly the opposite of what it promised when it tried to renew the agreement and remain in Iraq. Not exactly the first thing he did.

It's both sides. Both parties are owned by flawed foreign policy and the military industrial complex. If you want to argue to what degree each party's contribution to war has been, that's fine but to pick the lesser of two evils is still a choice for evil. In my mind it's a fruitless debate.

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