Defying the White House is the Proper Thing to Do


The mutual recriminations between US and Israeli officials following John Kerry’s controversial ceasefire proposal have produced more heat than light. The State Department claims that Kerry’s proposal was a mere draft that did not reflect the position of the US government. Israeli ministers, speaking on condition of anonymity, strongly dispute that version. US spokespeople have also expressed dismay at the harsh criticism of Kerry by Israeli journalists and politicians.

President Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, March 2013 ( AFP )

President Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, March 2013 – Photo: AFP

The Obama Administration had good reasons to be surprised by the reaction of Israel’s media to Kerry’s ceasefire proposal: the wall-to-wall condemnation of Kerry was indeed unprecedented. David Horowitz, the soft-spoken editor of the moderate Times of Israel, accused Kerry of “betrayal.” Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent of the ultra-liberal Haaretz wrote that Kerry’s proposal contained “everything Hamas could have hoped for” and that “the American secretary of state will be one of those responsible for every additional drop of blood that is spilled.” Ari Shavit, also from Haaretz, added that “The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends.” John Kerry might not have been able to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority during his nine-month shuttle diplomacy, but he did manage to make Israeli conservatives and liberals agree on one thing.

Kerry has inadvertently created a common ground among rivals not only within Israel but also without: Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan all agree that Kerry has ruined the chances of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Collaborating with Turkey and Qatar to reach a ceasefire was tantamount to calling the neighborhood’s pyromaniac instead of the fire department to extinguish the fire. Qatar bankrolls Hamas and Turkey advocates on its behalf. In Paris this past Saturday, Kerry was all smiles with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu whose boss, Recep Erdogan, recently accused Israel of genocide and compared Netanyahu to Hitler. Kerry was also at ease with Qatari foreign minister Khalid al-Attiyah, who did not deny Shimon Peres’ open accusation that Qatar finances the tunnels and the rockets that Hamas uses to kill Israelis.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal declared from Doha that John Kerry had asked Davutoglu and al-Attiyah to push for a ceasefire two days after the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, even though Kerry was aware of Egypt’s efforts to rein in Hamas. The day after Kerry’s photo ops with Davutoglu and al-Attiyah in Paris, President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu to ask for an unconditional ceasefire. The meaning of an unconditional ceasefire is that Israel would have had to lay down arms while leaving dozens of tunnels intact and thousands of rockets in Hamas’ possession.

What caused the Obama Administration to sideline its allies and woo its adversaries? That question boggles the mind of Middle East experts.

For Qatar, the military coup against Mohamed Morsi was a serious drawback. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is openly fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and its international backers –first and foremost Qatar and Turkey. By contrast, during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Egypt was still ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time, involving the “Islamic triangle” of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to reach a ceasefire was inevitable. Today, there are two opposing camps and the United States had a choice. The one it made defies logic.

Or does it? Operation Protective Edge was launched at a critical time for US interests in the Middle East. On July 14, the US signed an $11 billion military deal with Qatar. On July 18, President Obama decided to extend the Iran nuclear negotiations for four months. Connect the dots between those sequential events and you start understanding what Obama is up to. His administration is protecting Hamas because not doing so might jeopardize a huge military deal. As for Iran, America needs the conflict in Gaza to end as soon as possible in order for negotiations to resume. US negotiators have tried to compartmentalize regional issues involving Iran during the nuclear talks, by avoiding topics such as Iran’s missile development, its links to terrorist groups, and its human rights abuses. Obama’s logic is that doing so will enhance the prospects of reaching a deal. The longer the Gaza conflict continues, the harder it will be for the US to separate negotiations with Iran from other issues.

Israel should resist Obama’s pressure for an unconditional ceasefire, not only because such a ceasefire would keep Israelis at the mercy of Hamas’ rockets and tunnels, but also because the Obama Administration has proven beyond doubt that, in the Middle East at least, defying America is better rewarded than acquiescing to its demands.



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About the Author:


Emmanuel Navon

Emmanuel Navon chairs the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.