Despite the tendency to criticize US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts, credit should be given where credit is due. Over the weekend, Kerry did manage to facilitate something in the Middle East: unparalleled unanimity.
Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were all in agreement that Kerry’s efforts were undermining the attempt to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as quickly as possible. Moreover, Kerry’s framework and the ideas he presented led to an extraordinary phone call taking place between a senior Palestinian Authority official and an Israeli counterpart, during which the two mocked the senior diplomat’s naivete and his failure to understand the regional reality.
Kerry’s mistakes are embarrassing. A senior official in Washington on Sunday rushed to explain to Israeli reporters that the framework — the key terms of which were first published by The Times of Israel, and which then appeared in full on other media outlets — was but a draft that summed up a series of consultations between Kerry and the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, Khalid al-Attiyah and Ahmet Davutoglu. But this is where the mistake begins: The US administration gambled on the camp that supports Hamas, bankrolls it and pushes it to go on shooting.
Kerry and his staff made an outrageous decision to turn their backs on the Egyptian framework for a ceasefire in a manner that encouraged Hamas to continue shooting rockets.
This first mistake was exposed by none other than the political leader of the organization, Khaled Mashaal, who said in a press conference in Doha, the Qatari capital, that Kerry had turned to al-Attiyah and Davutoglu two days after the Israeli operation in Gaza began and asked them to push for a ceasefire. At the time, Kerry knew full well that a major Egyptian effort was underway to persuade Hamas to stop firing immediately. By turning to Doha and Ankara behind the backs of Cairo and Jerusalem, Washington — no doubt unintentionally — strengthened Hamas’s resolve against Egypt and Israel.
But the mistakes didn’t stop there. The farce continued with the amateurish draft that was immediately rejected by Israel’s security cabinet; it then reached new heights on Saturday in Paris, when Kerry decided to participate in an international summit on Gaza, attended by his new friends al-Attiyah and Davutoglu as well as the foreign ministers of the European Union, but not by a few players that Kerry apparently perceives as marginal – representatives of Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and, of course, Israel.
It’s hard to say what caused the Obama administration to join forces with the Muslim Brotherhood of all camps — loyally represented by Turkey and Qatar — and turn its back on the movement’s sworn enemy, the Egyptian government. The best case scenario is that it might have been amateurism or a misreading of the situation. In a less ideal scenario, Washington decided to forge an alliance with organizations and entities that would be happy to see Israel disappear from the map. I prefer to bet on the first option, the one that was discussed with such ridicule by the senior Israeli and Palestinian officials — that Kerry just doesn’t understand who’s playing against whom in the Wild Mideast.
It’s hard to say where Hamas is headed in the next few hours. At 2 p.m. on Monday, the 24-hour “humanitarian truce” the organization announced Sunday formally ended. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Sunday that the organization would decide only on Monday how it intends to proceed, leaving open the possibility for a continued truce. This was a rather blatant hint that Hamas seeks calm and quiet, at least during the Eid al-Fitr holiday which began on Monday and will end on Wednesday.
And what next? The options both Israel and Hamas have are ambiguous – options that will cause them serious losses and not many gains.
If Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel, it risks the continuation of the Israeli military operation in Gaza – and possibly its own downfall. On the other hand, if Hamas agrees to stop the fighting without significant achievements, such as the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, it will crash in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hamas can boast of one significant achievement: it has penetrated Arab and international public opinion. From a minor and peripheral organization, it has morphed into a force that has taken the international press by storm. Khaled Mashaal was even interviewed on Sunday on CBS’s “Charlie Rose” show, which often hosts prime ministers and presidents — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, if Israel expands its Gaza operation, it risks contending with chaos in Gaza and with the need to conquer the coastal territory for an extended period of time, with a high number of IDF casualties. But if the IDF pulls out of the Strip now, without extensive agreements regarding its demilitarization, Hamas will rush to arm itself and dig more tunnels — which will, in turn, lead to another confrontation at an unknown date. The way in which Israel has created deterrence has caused enormous damage in Gaza, becoming etched into the Palestinian and Arab consciousness. But it remains to be seen how long this deterrence will last, and when Hamas will decide to renew the fighting.
And next time, it will be an even stronger Hamas.