Is the press turning on John Kerry over his Mideast peace flops?
posted at 12:41 pm on July 29, 2014 by Noah Rothman
Secretary of State John Kerry must be frustrated.
He has yet to negotiate a peace, or even a cease fire, in the ongoing and bloody conflict in Gaza. Kerry’s scattershot and unfocused efforts have earned him the rebuke of his fellows in the Washington D.C. political and press establishments.
You can’t say he wasn’t warned. “The Israelis and the Palestinians are resisting Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated offers to travel to the Middle East and try to help negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas,” The Daily Beast’s well-connected security reporter Josh Rogin wrote on July 13. “Experts on both sides believe he doesn’t have the credibility or ability to do any good if he shows up there.”
Along with the accomplished Eli Lake, Rogin followed that report up on Tuesday with a damning postmortem chronicling the failure of Kerry’s peace push.
When Kerry sent the Israel government his draft ceasefire proposal July 25, the Israeli cabinet rejected it unanimously and senior Israeli officials leaked several angry and nasty criticisms of Kerry to the Israeli press. Kerry’s meeting with the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers in Paris on July 26 evoked another round of leaked quotes about Israel’s frustration with Kerry’s effort.
Of course, the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel was wary of Kerry’s efforts. Israel has been resisting Kerry’s criticism that their operations should focus more on avoiding civilian casualties and has groused that Kerry’s proposal would reward Hamas for launching barrages of rockets into Israel. Israeli officials have also disparaged Kerry in public and private ever since Kerry’s last Middle East peace push collapsed in April.
But anonymous Israeli officials were not the only ones grousing about Kerry’s diplomacy. Asharq al-Aswat, an Arab newspaper based in London, quoted a senior Palestinian Authority official over the weekend saying Kerry’s plan was an attempt to destroy the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
Perhaps the unkindest cut into Kerry’s credibility as America’s chief diplomat came this week from Washington Post opinion writer and seasoned diplomatic journalist David Ignatius.
“A wiser course, which Kerry rejected in his hunt for a quick diplomatic solution, would have been to negotiate the cease-fire through the Palestinian Authority, as part of its future role as the government of Gaza,” Ignatius wrote.
Kerry’s initial plan was to support Egypt’s demand that Hamas accept a cease-fire. When Hamas balked at surrender and it was clear that Egypt lacked the clout to make the deal stick, Kerry turned to Turkey and Qatar, which as friends and financial backers of Hamas had more leverage. That put the deal first and a stable solution to Gaza’s problems second. The deal blew up anyway, victim of Israeli and Palestinian inability to get to yes.
By turning to Turkey and Qatar, Kerry also enhanced their position in the regional power game. 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 Abbas.
“It’s not clear why Kerry left the perception that he was prepared to sideline Egypt and push a ceasefire plan favored by Turkey and Qatar,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pondered on Tuesday. “Why didn’t he go back to Egypt? Try to get them onboard before announcing it?”
MSNBC accompanied Todd’s segment, in which he essentially denounced Kerry’s bungled approach to negotiating Mideast peace, with a chyron calling Kerry’s approach to diplomacy “words of uncertainty.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu warned his fellow Israelis that the campaign in Gaza would likely be “prolonged.” Meanwhile, as Ed Morrissey noted, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are signaling their willingness to accept a 72-hour rolling cease fire which could be extended, at least in theory, indefinitely.
“That would be a big step backwards for Hamas, if true,” Morrissey observed. Yes, but it would also be a victory for peace for which John Kerry could not claim any credit.
Kerry remains the only American Secretary of State in more than 20 years to fail to negotiate a cease fire or major peace accord in the Middle East. His failures only become more glaring when considering the view historians will take on Kerry’s approach to the job.
Kerry, the son of a diplomat, always wanted to make his mark on America’s foreign policy. It was this desire that motivated him to run for president in 2004. It was this desire that led him to lobby so hard for the position he currently occupies. With the proliferation of conflicts abroad, however, and his inability to accomplish even the base-level successes of his predecessors, Kerry’s tragic lot may be to go down in history as a failure in his tenure at Foggy Bottom.