The Israeli Cabinet unanimously rejected the terms of a Gaza ceasefire proposed by Hamas front men Qatar and Turkey. Secretary of State Kerry expressed surprise and chagrin at the vote. The Israelis expressed surprise and chagrin at Kerry’s support for a document that offered Hamas “arrangements to secure the opening of crossings, allow the entry of goods and people and ensure the social and economic livelihood of the Palestinian people living in Gaza, transfer of funds to Gaza for the payment of salaries for public employees and address all security issues.”
More important from Israel’s perspective, the document ignores the real problem of both Israelis and Palestinians in favor of a temporary solution to a peripheral, albeit tragic problem blasting through the media.
The original problem was — and remains — that Hamas, a terrorist organization supported by Iran as well as by Qatar and Turkey, was firing increasingly long-range and lethal rockets from within its own civilian population into the towns and cities of Israel, and building tunnels for storing weapons, hiding the leadership, and drawing closer to Israeli civilians for terrorist activity. The first two are war crimes of no uncertain status. Israel responded by working to eliminate the stockpiles of missiles and, upon discovering the extent of the tunnel activity, to eliminate the tunnels as well.
The price for Palestinian civilians has been high — primarily because they are sitting atop and alongside the depots and tunnels.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry were admirably firm in their expressed belief that Israel had the right to eliminate the threat to its civilian population. But when Israel found the problem to be both broader and deeper than it had understood, requiring more and bigger military operations than it had anticipated, the administration got cold feet. The goal shifted from supporting the elimination of the threat to Israeli civilians to stopping the war in Gaza – or more accurately, stopping the parade of Hamas-engendered dead bodies and crying children on the nightly news.
And so, just before the weekend, Secretary Kerry posed the Qatar/Turkey ceasefire language to the Israeli government, knowing it had already agreed to Egyptian language and to more than one “humanitarian pause” in the fighting while Hamas continued rocket fire. The Cabinet rejection was only a surprise until a draft of the document was published by Ha’aretz in an explosive article by Barak Ravid.
According to the document Ravid obtained, the administration dropped Israel as the aggrieved party. The ceasefire first addresses not missiles/rockets and tunnels, but “protecting civilian lives, ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip and achieving a sustainable cease fire and enduring resolution of the crisis.” Israel’s security problem would henceforth be covered solely by the language “ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip.”
According to another report, the IDF would not be asked to withdraw from Gaza, but would be forbidden to continue to take action against tunnels it has located; Israel has been bombing them out of commission.
Disclaiming any change in U.S. policy toward Israel, Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes told CNN’s Candy Crowley, “The basic principle holds. They have a right to defend themselves. Hamas is responsible for the conflict. Israel needs to take care to avoid civilian casualties and the loss of life on both sides.”
How Israel became responsible for civilians on both sides, rather than exercising its sovereign obligation to protect its own civilians, is unclear. But asked if he thought Israel was doing everything it could to minimize civilian casualties, Rhodes offered Israel no endorsement. “We believe in densely populated areas like this, you have to go the extra mile to avoid loss of life. The best way to do that is through a cease-fire. We focused our diplomatic efforts to get a calm and negotiate a comprehensive cease-fire.”
President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a Sunday phone call that he wants a ceasefire that “both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority.”
In fact, Palestinians in Gaza won’t lead a “normal life” until Hamas is gone, but the phone call completes the transition from Israel as the defender of Israeli citizens from terrorist rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza to Israel as responsible for the well-being of Palestinians under Hamas control.
The Obama administration habitually selects a small part of a large problem and deals with it as if the piece was the whole.
- The Syrian chemical weapons agreement destroyed “declared stockpiles” of Syrian weapons, but the Assad government simply dropped chlorine bombs on civilians (same effect) and starved rebel areas.
- The “Framework Agreement” with Iran produced temporary and reversible limits on some Iranian nuclear-related activities, but ignored others, as well as ignoring Iran’s long-range missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and the execution of nearly 1,000 people in the past year.
- The reset with Russia, which involved canceling plans with American allies Poland and the Czech Republic, was designed to influence Russian policy on Iran and Syria.
- Secretary Clinton removed human rights from the agenda in China to promote trade and political comity.
- Moammar Qadaffi was ousted, but the country has now disintegrated into tribal warfare that forced the U.S. to evacuate our embassy in Tripoli.
In no case did offering a hostile government a deal it wanted cause that government to change its behavior in ways the United States wanted.
So too Israel. If Israel is forced to end its operation in Gaza before eliminating the tunnel network and before eliminating at least a large percentage of missiles warehoused in the tunnels and underground bunkers – and UNRWA schools — Hamas will quickly be back in business. Israel will again be faced with intolerable threats to its people and the people of Gaza will be faced again with the results of President Obama’s capitulation to terrorists.