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Seriously, What Is John Kerry Doing?

7 January 2011. Shangil Tubaya: US Senator John Kerry visits the sorroundings of UNAMID team site in Shangil Tubaya (North Darfur), where more than 4,000 people settled down since December due to the fights beetween the government and rebel militias. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

We either have an incompetent Secretary of State or a momentous shift in Middle East policy. Either way, Kerry’s actions have created a bigger mess.

Let’s concede for a moment that most of us don’t believe the United States should be taking sides in conflicts abroad. Even so, most Americans would probably agree that at a minimum our diplomatic efforts should not cause unnecessary harm. Which brings me to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent misadventure in the Middle East.

It seems like a rather big deal that Egypt, Israel, Fatah, Jordan, Saudi Arabia—ostensibly, all allies of ours—agree on anything. This development, one imagines, might be something the United States would be interested in fostering rather than destroying. Certainly, the idea that Hamas’ power should be neutralized and the influence of the “moderate” Palestinian authority expanded, sounds like a plan worth pursuing.

Or so you would think. But instead, it looks like Kerry ignored an Egyptian-led ceasefire effort and handed Israelis a document that offered them this:

  • Rather than empowering Fatah, it recognizes Hamas as the legitimate authority in the Gaza Strip, although it’s considered a terrorist organization by the Justice Department and an entity that’s founding principle and driving purpose is to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.
  • Rather than choking off this organization’s lifeline, the agreement would have allowed them to collect billions in ‘charity’ that would be been able to use to rearm, retrench, and re-engage in hostilities.
  • And all the while, it would have made no demands on Hamas to purge itself of rockets, or tunnels, or other weaponry that destabilizes the area—while at the same, the ceasefire would have limited Israel’s ability to take them out. (Update: This final point is disputed by U.S. officials.)

Hamas would have conceded nothing. No nation would have accepted such terms, not after what’s transpired, and naturally it was rejected unanimously by an Israeli cabinet that includes the ideological left, center, and right. Not only did the proposal irritate Israel—a nation often accused of warmongering for kicks—but it also upset Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

All of which, one presumes, a seasoned statesman like Kerry should have foreseen. So why did Kerry offer a proposal driven by Qatar and Turkey, two of Hamas’ allies and Israel’s antagonists? Qatar not only funds one of the leading anti-Israel propaganda outfits on the planet, Al Jazeera, but it is also, according to Shimon Peres—hardly a warmongering Likudnik—the “world’s largest funder of terror due to its financial support for Hamas in Gaza.” And Turkey, which often sounds like some well-known Progressive Twitter accounts, recently accused the Jews of committing genocide, called Israel a “terror state,” and compared Netanyahu to Hitler.

Though we’ve often pressured Israel to shorten these kinds of operations, only a historian would be able to come up with an instances of the United States pressuring Israel to accept such a lousy agreement. So naturally, the Israeli press, including left-wing newspapers like Haaretz, went after Kerry pretty hard. The United States, according to reports, believes that Israeli officials had misrepresented the deal. And the Obama administration pushed back yesterday. “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who seems to think Israel has a state-controlled media.

But, according to nearly every news report, Kerry was the one who brought Turkey and Qatar into the mix. And it is undeniable that Kerry went to Paris immediately after negotiations collapsed and met with officials from Turkey and Qatar to discuss a potential cease-fire in the Gaza. Kerry did not meet with Egypt, nor the Palestinian Authority, nor Israel. That seems odd—inexplicable, even—but it certainly lends credence to Israeli media accounts.

David Ignatius at the Washington Post argues that “Kerry’s mistake isn’t any bias against Israel but rather a bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal.” But it’s conceivable that both of those factors played a part. As a political consideration, the administration would have benefitted from a short-term deal. Perhaps because of tragic loss of life, the United States would rather see a ceasefire than Hamas dealt a mortal blow. And that is almost certainly one of the reasons Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

It is worth remembering that Kerry, who is rightly considered a longtime ally of Israel, has changed his tone considerably since joining the administration. He’s accused Israel of being a few short steps removed from “apartheid,” he peddled the myth of Israel’s imminent demographic demise, and he was conveniently caught on a hot mic sarcastically dismissing Israel’s pinpoint strikes, and insinuating that he, John Kerry, was not invited to embark on a ceasefire talks because Israel was buying time to finish off Hamas. (If that’s Israel’s goal, they should have invited Kerry earlier.)

But maybe the United States doesn’t want to take sides anymore. Maybe the Obama administration’s recent dealings in the Middle East reflect this attitude. Maybe Kerry’s actions weren’t a mistake but an attempt to show Israel’s enemies that we can be even-handed. Because we either have an incompetent Secretary of State or a momentous shift in Middle East policy. Either way, Kerry’s actions have created a bigger mess.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.

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