|Map showing the territory under Palestinian control and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Source: Public Domain.|
David Ignatius is an associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post. He also co-hosts PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues at Washingtonpost.com, with Fareed Zakaria. Capping several major awards in his field, Ignatius is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the International Committee for Foreign Journalism.
Unlike some of his colleagues in the media, Ignatius can be counted on to acknowledge at least two sides in every international conflict. In the current flare up of violence between Israel and Palestine, the press has most often portrayed Israel as the bad guy with little or no indication that Hamas, given to terrorist attacks on Israel, has played a role. Ignatius comes closer to an objective review of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East than any other media rep that I’ve come across since the conflict began.
In his analysis, Ignatius zeroes in on John Kerry’s handling of the hot-button situation:
Kerry's error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey. In the process, he has undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.
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. Hamas agreed last April to bring the PA back to Gaza as part of a unity agreement with Fatah that was brokered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry has been motivated by two understandable short-term needs: First, he wants to stop the horrific slaughter in Gaza, with its heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians, including children. Second, he seeks to fulfil the instructions of President Obama, who wants an immediate cease-fire and has become skeptical about solving the knotted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry's approach has ignited a firestorm in Israel, with commentators left and right accusing him of taking Hamas' side and betraying Israel. That criticism is unfair, and it prompted a complaint Sunday from Obama in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry's mistake isn't any bias against Israel, but a bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal. A case can be made for this "kick the can down the road" approach, as I did last week in discussing Kerry's recent diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and with rival political leaders in Afghanistan.
But Gaza has suffered from a generation of brutal expediency. Any deal that reinforces Hamas' stranglehold -- rather than building a path toward change of government, elections and eventual disarmament -- is misconceived. In the name of stopping bloodshed this week, it all but guarantees it in the future. That's why public opinion polls show a strong majority of Gazans back the idea of returning to Palestinian Authority control -- because they want an end to the cycle of intermittent warfare.
Israel has undermined its own cause with statements that appear to be insensitive to Palestinian loss of life. One example is Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer's claim that "the Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize" for showing "unimaginable restraint," at a time when photos and videos provide wrenching evidence of civilian casualties in the densely packed cities of Gaza.