July 27, 2014
The press conference U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry convened together with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry was one of Kerry’s most embarrassing incidents since taking office. And there were quite a few in the last year and a half.
A few hours before the press conference began, the Israeli security cabinet ministers unanimously rejected Kerry’s cease-fire plan draft. Kerry, as is his wont, seemed and sounded as if he came from a parallel universe. He claimed to have never presented Israel with a formal offer for a cease-fire, slammed the Israeli media’s “mischievous reports” and promised that Netanyahu’s office will issue a clarification.
As if that wasn’t enough, Kerry claimed he made significant progress in the cease-fire talks and said, deadpan, that the disagreements with Israel are purely on matters of terminology. Reality, of course, was completely different. If anything happened on Friday it was another deep crisis in trust between Israeli senior cabinet members and the American secretary of state.
The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned byKhaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.
The document recognized Hamas’ position in the Gaza Strip, promised the organization billions in donation funds and demanded no dismantling of rockets, tunnels or other heavy weaponry at Hamas’ disposal. The document placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally and as if the second isn’t a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
On Saturday, the State Department distributed photos of Kerry’s meeting with Qatar and Turkey’s foreign ministers in Paris. The three appear jovial and happy-go-lucky. Other photographs show Kerry carousing romantically with the Turkish foreign minister in the pastoral grounds of the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris, as if the Turkish official’s prime minister didn’t just say a few days ago that Israel is 10 times worse than Hitler.
The secretary of state’s draft empowered the most radical and problematic elements in the region – Qatar, Turkey, and Hamas – and was a slap on the face to the rapidly forming camp of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who have many shared interests. What Kerry’s draft spells for the internal Palestinian political arena is even direr: It crowns Hamas and issues Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a death warrant.
It’s not clear what Kerry was thinking when he presented this draft. It’s unclear what he had in mind when he convened the Paris summit. It can only be seen as surreal. Along with foreign ministers from Europe’s major nations Kerry greeted with regal honors Hamas’ Qatari and Turkish patrons, ignoring what Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority might have had to say.
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.