Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kerry and Obama give both sides reason to keep fighting in Gaza.

From WSJ, 28 July 2014:

The question that routinely comes up regarding U.S. foreign policy these days is: What in the world were they thinking? 


The latest puzzlement is the weekend fiasco in which President Obama and John Kerry pressed a cease-fire that is likely to extend the war between Hamas and Israel.

As Israel's ground incursion into Gaza enters its third week, the goal of America's foremost ally in the region is clear. It must degrade Hamas as a military and political force to the greatest extent possible.

That means destroying the rockets the terror group hasn't yet fired at Israel and especially collapsing the network of tunnels used for smuggling weapons and infiltrating into Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be mindful of Palestinian civilian casualties and maintaining domestic and international support, but a victory requires achieving these strategic goals.
The irony is that Israel's immediate Arab neighbors privately want it to succeed. Jordan wants no part of a Palestinian state run by Hamas, and neither do the Saudis or Egypt's military government. The Fatah Palestinian faction that runs the West Bank also wants Hamas to emerge weaker. Surely the White House knows this.
Yet over the weekend Secretary of State Kerry blundered into the conflict promoting a cease-fire floated by Turkey and Qatar that was close to the terms demanded by Hamas. The U.S. hasn't released the details, but Israel's press has published what it says is a one-page summary. The document called on Israel to negotiate with "Palestinian factions," meaning direct talks with Hamas, as well as an end to Israel's military campaign while giving Hamas concessions on border crossings and outside payments. In short, it would have ended the war while leaving Hamas in a position to rebuild its terror economy.
Mr. Obama didn't endorse the Kerry plan per se. But in a readout of his Sunday phone call to Mr. Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement that, "Building on Secretary Kerry's efforts, the President made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now" and leads to a deal based on the cease-fire in November 2012. That's the one that let Hamas rearm.
The reaction in Israel was opposition bordering on contempt. Ari Shavit, a center-left columnist for Haaretz, wrote that 
Mr. Kerry's "decision to go hand in hand with Qatar and Turkey, and formulate a framework amazingly similar to the Hamas framework, was catastrophic. It put wind in the sails of Hamas' political leader Khaled Meshal, allowed the Hamas extremists to overcome the Hamas moderates, and gave renewed life to the weakened regional alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a press conference following a crisis meeting on Middle-East at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris on July 26. European Pressphoto Agency
He added that "the Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends." 
And you should hear what Israel's hawks are saying. 
We're told Mr. Kerry is upset about being criticized so publicly by an ally, but Israel is a free society and the U.S. doesn't get to impose a gag order.
The upshot of the Kerry-Obama plan is that Hamas feels it has even less reason to agree to a cease-fire because sooner or later the Americans will force Israel to stand down. And Israel has every reason to press its offensive even more aggressively because it knows it can't trust the Obama Administration. U.S. diplomacy has achieved the opposite of its supposed intent.
We say "supposed" because it's hard to know what this Administration is trying to achieve beyond its perennial call to end the violence. From Iran to Syria to Iraq and now to Gaza, this Administration seems to believe that merely enunciating good intentions will yield good outcomes. No wonder it yields more war.
Real diplomatic leverage comes with trust and credibility. Trust comes from being a reliable partner, especially toward your closest allies. This Administration has spent five years expressing private and public distrust of Israel, which Israel has not surprisingly repaid in kind.
Credibility comes from following through on threats and promises, such as "red lines" in Syria or assertions that this or that leader "must go." This Administration has spent five years drawing lines in the Middle Eastern sand that are blown away with the next news cycle.
If the President and Mr. Kerry really want to roll back the tide of war, here's a suggestion: Forget the chatter about a cease-fire and both sides having an equal obligation to end hostilities. 
Issue statements that support Israel's right to defend itself and that make clear that the way Hamas can stop Israel's incursions is by stopping its terrorism against civilians in Israel and Gaza. 
That might also be the start—but only a start—of restoring U.S. influence in the Middle East.

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