An immediate, unconditional cease-fire is needed; so what’s the big deal?
You can forgive U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry if, over the remainder of his term, he decides to stay away from anything Israel-Palestine related. The Holy Land has never been particularly kind to America’s top diplomats over the past several decades, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an inflaming virus to Kerry—a man who clearly believes in his ability to swoop in and negotiate life-saving diplomatic agreements at the last minute in order to avert disaster.
If the collapse of his nine-month peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority didn’t do it, Kerry’s comments behind closed doors at a speaking event last April—in which he warned about the dire possibility of Israel becoming an apartheid state if a two-state solution was not struck with the Palestinians in short order—might have convinced Kerry that Mideast peace was simply too much trouble. His apartheid comments were so controversial in Washington that Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, including Senator Barbara Boxer, called them inappropriate (Republican Ted Cruz would go on to make a ridiculous call for Kerry’s resignation on the Senate floor). Indeed, the Secretary had to issue a late-night statement himself clarifying the record: “if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations…living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution.”
Even this kerfuffle, however, wasn’t enough to persuade Kerry to back off. If there is anything that can be said about John Kerry as Secretary of State, it’s that he has a seemingly endless supply of tenacity and optimism (the diplomatic “energizer-bunny” would be a good nickname for him). Sure, this energy has not generated the diplomatic results he and his boss, President Obama, have been looking for (negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program could be an exception), but it allows Secretary Kerry to continue pushing frameworks and ideas that he, the U.S. government, and the rest of the international community all know are required for a sustainable and lasting peace in that region.
Yet, at this moment, it’s difficult for even the staunchest Kerry loyalist to privately question whether the Secretary can take any more hits to his reputation as a negotiator and leader. Again, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is rearing its ugly head and making his life far more difficult than it should be.
The leaked draft of Kerry’s Gaza cease-fire proposal, which was designed to halt the fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Palestinian armed factions in order to negotiate a more longstanding and “enduring solution” to the crisis in Gaza, has created a buzz saw of criticism from sources in Israel who are now questioning his personal commitment to Israel’s security.
The Times of Israel website describes the “horror” of the Israeli ministers when Kerry’s cease-fire draft was circulated. “Channel 2′s diplomatic reporter,” reports the ToI story, “said ‘voices’ from the cabinet had described Kerry as ‘negligent,’ ‘lacking the ability to understand’ the issues, and ‘incapable of handling the most basic matters.’” Barak Ravid, a columnist of the Haaretz newspaper took it a step further by going after Kerry personally, which caused a fair amount of defensive pushback in the State Department and the White House about the attacks. In Ravid’s words:
Kerry isn’t anti-Israeli; on the contrary, he's a true friend to Israel. But his conduct in recent days over the Gaza cease-fire raises serious doubts over his judgment and perception of regional events. It's as if he isn't the foreign minister of the world's most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast. For a few moments Friday one could not avoid recalling the things Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said about Kerry, and admit that despite the fact that it wasn't appropriate, he may have had a point.
If Kerry did anything on Friday it was to thwart the possibility of reaching a cease-fire in Gaza. Instead of promoting a cease-fire, Kerry pushed it away. If this failed diplomatic attempt leads Israel to escalate its operation in Gaza, the American secretary of state will be one of those responsible for every additional drop of blood that is spilled.
In Washington, the influential Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, called the Gaza cease-fire failure and the hurt feelings that resulted from it a “big blunder,” and an illustration of Kerry’s inability to see beyond the short-term objective of stopping the bloodshed towards the longer-term goal of getting the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza after seven long years.
Why all the harsh commentary? If Kerry’s cease-fire draft is the issue, then it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about.
The cease-fire proposal that was leaked to the press last week is very similar to a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet accepted a week earlier: that is, halt all hostilities between all the parties, ease border restrictions so goods and people can move in and out, and convene a comprehensive discussion in Cairo about the core issues that need to be discussed for a sustainable resolution to the Gaza question. It’s the same general formula that the United Nations Security Council endorsed in a presidential statement, the same roadmap that President Barack Obama has constantly reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu in a series of phone calls, and a view that resonates with the Arab League and the European Union. Ironically, it also happens to be a plan that needs to be followed if there is any chance in resolving the underlying humanitarian, economic and security problems that have made Gaza a war-zone for the past six years.
Criticism notwithstanding, Kerry knows full well the imperative of establishing a nonconditional, immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting. Surely the Security Council, President Obama, the Arab League and European heads of state can’t all be wrong?
Daniel R. DePetris is a Middle East analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., and an editor of the Atlantic Sentinel. Follow him on Twitter: @DanDePetris.