WashPost Columnist: Kerry Wrecked Israel-Gaza Cease-fire Talks

Image: WashPost Columnist: Kerry Wrecked Israel-Gaza Cease-fire Talks (Gary Cameron/Reuters/Landov)

Tuesday, 29 Jul 2014 09:22 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Secretary of State John Kerry was denounced by a columnist for The Washington Post for his failed efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and Gaza.

Kerry’s "significant mistake" was to place too much importance on putting an immediate end to the mounting bloodshed, resulting in the terror group Hamas strengthening its power base in the Palestinian community, according to the Post’s David Ignatius.

In his attempt at a quick diplomatic fix to stop the fighting that has cost hundreds of civilian lives, Kerry’s miscalculation included consulting with two of Hamas’ supporters in the region, Qatar and Turkey, as part of the peace negotiations in the hope they would yield some influence over the Islamic faction.

The move not only marginalized the Israelis but ignored the Egyptians and the more moderate Fatah movement that controls the Palestine Authority, all three of which want the hard-line Hamas removed from power in Gaza, Ignatius wrote.

The columnist says that Kerry would have been "wiser" to negotiate the cease-fire through the Palestinian Authority to pave the way for it to have a possible later role as the government of Gaza.

"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 fulfill the instructions of President Obama, who wants an immediate cease-fire and has become skeptical about solving the knotted Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Ignatius wrote.

But his methods have led to accusations in Israel that he’s turned his back on the embattled country and has taken Hamas’ side. The criticism even led to President Barack Obama calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease the tension between the United States and Israel while National Security Adviser Susan Rice was forced to publicly defend Kerry.

"Kerry’s mistake isn’t any bias against Israel, but rather a bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal," Ignatius wrote.

Kerry originally was pushing Egypt’s plan that Hamas agree to an immediate cease-fire. But when it became clear that Hamas would not back down and Egypt didn’t have the leverage to make it work, the secretary turned to Turkey and Qatar, which holds sway over the Islamic organization due to their financial support.

"By turning to Turkey and Qatar, Kerry also enhanced their position in the regional power game," Ignatius wrote. "That’s contrary to the interests and desires of the United States’ traditional allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the moderate Palestinian camp headed by [President Mahmoud] Abbas."

Ignatius wrote that the problem facing Kerry is how to establish the Palestinian Authority as a responsible government when Israelis fear that it might operate on the Lebanese model — with Hamas maintaining a deadly militia just as Hezbollah does in Beirut, Lebanon.

"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," Ignatius wrote.

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