Charles Krauthammer: U.S. bungles Middle East cease-fire negotiations

08/04/2014 7:00 AM

08/04/2014 3:24 PM

John Kerry is upset by heavy criticism from Israelis — left, right and center — of his recent cease-fire diplomacy. But that’s only half the story.

More significant is the consternation of Arab partners, starting with the president of the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas was stunned that Kerry would fly off to Paris to negotiate with Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey in talks that excluded the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.

The talks also undermined Egypt’s cease-fire proposal, which Israel had accepted and Hamas rejected. “Kerry tried through his latest plan to destroy the Egyptian bid,” charged a senior Palestinian official quoted in the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat — a peace plan that the Palestinian Authority itself had supported. It gets worse.

The Egyptian initiative was backed by the entire Arab League and praised by Saudi Arabia. With the exception of Qatar — more a bank than a country — the Arabs are unanimous in wanting to see Hamas weakened, if not overthrown. The cease-fire-in-place they backed would have denied Hamas any reward for starting this war, while what Kerry brought back from Paris granted practically all of its demands.

Which is what provoked the severe criticism Kerry received at home. But Kerry seems oblivious to the strategic reality that Hamas launched its rockets in the hope, not of defeating Israel, but ending its intra-Arab isolation. Hamas’ radicalism has alienated nearly all of its Arab neighbors. Egypt cut it off — indeed blockaded Gaza — because of Hamas’ support for the Muslim Brotherhood and terror attacks on Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.

Fatah, the main element of the Palestinian Authority, is a bitter enemy, particularly because its Gaza members were terrorized, kneecapped, expelled and/or killed when Hamas seized Gaza in a 2007 coup. Hamas is non grata in Syria for supporting the anti-government rebels.

Hamas is deeply opposed by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which see it correctly as yet another branch of the Islamist movement that threatens relatively moderate pro-Western Arab states.

Kerry seems not to understand that the Arab League backed the Egyptian cease-fire-in-place, which would have left Hamas weak and isolated, to ensure that Hamas didn’t emerge from this war strengthened.

Why didn’t Kerry just stay home and declare unequivocal U.S. support for the Egyptian/Arab League plan? Instead, he flies off to Paris and sends Jerusalem a package of victories for Hamas: lifting the blockade from Egypt, opening the border with Israel, showering millions of foreign cash to pay the salaries of the 43,000 government workers that the near-insolvent Hamas cannot.

Forget about Israeli interests. Forget about Arab interests. The American interest is to endorse and solidify this emerging axis of moderate pro-American partners (Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states, and the Palestinian Authority) intent on seeing Islamist radicalism blunted and ultimately defanged. Yet America’s own secretary of state doesn’t see it.

Remember the complaints that the heartless Israelis were not allowing enough imports of concrete for schools and hospitals? Well, now we know where the concrete went — into an astonishingly vast array of tunnels for infiltrating neighboring Israeli villages and killing civilians.

Lifting the blockade would mean a flood of arms, rockets, missile parts and other implements of terror for Hamas. What is an American secretary of state doing asserting that Hamas cannot cease fire unless it gets that?

Moreover, the fire from which Hamas will not cease consists of deliberate rocket attacks on Israeli cities — by definition, a war crime.

Whatever his intent, Kerry legitimized Hamas’ war criminality. Which makes his advocacy of Hamas’ terms not just a strategic blunder — enhancing an American-designated terror group just when a wall-to-wall Arab front wants to see it gone — but a moral disgrace.

Reach Charles Krauthammer at letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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