Without sarcasm, I applaud Elizabeth Tsurkov for asking the question: “Why did Israel reject Kerry’s ceasefire proposal?” The rejection, after all, was unanimous within the security cabinet, and their opinion of it was so negative that they leaked the document to the press. Israeli commentators across the political spectrum, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab leaders in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have had the same reaction to the Kerry proposal.
In the face of a unanimous condemnation—and an American narrative that rejects everyone else’s—it’s important to ask why opinions have formed the way they have. Is it that
- Israel, the PA, and the Arab allies severely misjudged the context and content of the Kerry proposal?, or
- Kerry’s proposal was a colossal diplomatic failure that threw a wrench in pre-existing strategic planning?
These are the competing narratives currently held by the U.S. (in the first instance) and everyone else (in the second). The stark contrast necessitates critical analysis.
Tsurkov, in her article, has tried to help us understand the first narrative by comparing the texts of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and the Kerry proposal, and analyzing them in the context of Israeli complaints. She finds that the texts are both vague, largely similar, and not worth getting hysterical over.
Her method of analysis is incomplete, however. The Egyptian text she referenced was the one that was offered on July 14—before the IDF entered on the ground, and before the extent of the tunnel threat, and its destruction, became the overwhelming priority. (Indeed, it appears that a Hamas infiltration via a tunnel is what persuaded the security cabinet to approve a ground offensive.) Israel, by launching a ground operation, decided it wanted to leave Hamas in a weakened, isolated state by the end of fighting—without tunnels with which to infiltrate Israel, without diplomatic support, and without the ability to control the Palestinian agenda. A ceasefire from that point could only be negotiated to cement those realities.
Thus, as the threat perception and facts on the ground changed, Israel continued to develop understandings with the Egyptians about what a ceasefire would look like. Israel and Egypt have articulated and demonstrated that the tunnels are a higher priority for them than an immediate ceasefire. The necessary outcome was the weakening of Hamas—not the cessation of hostilities. The Kerry proposal, and Obama’s apparent urgency for an immediate ceasefire, seemed to Israel not to mesh with that notion.
The Kerry proposal made no assurances that the IDF could continue destroying tunnels leading into Israel, which had become part of the Egyptian–Israeli understanding, and placed discussions of Israeli security only within the context of negotiations after the ceasefire took place. The proposal commits the parties to: “Convene in Cairo, at the invitation of Egypt, within 48 hours to negotiate resolution of all issues necessary to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring solution to the crisis in Gaza, including 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 funds to Gaza for the payment of salaries for public employees, and address all security issues.”
The mention of salaries also set off alarm bells, as the U.S. and Israel have never signed a document authorizing the transfer of funds to Hamas, and this clause was not in the Egyptian text.
More than anything, Egypt and Israel saw the Kerry meeting in Paris as directly counterproductive to their own efforts. It would be one thing for the meeting to have been an attempt on the part of the U.S. to persuade Turkey and Qatar to come aboard the Egyptian track. But instead, it offered a competing proposal negotiated with Hamas’s benefactors. It gave life to the losing side—indeed, the side the U.S. wants to lose.
Israel’s blistering criticism went too far and no doubt further eroded diplomatic ties with the U.S. Netanyahu has a penchant and, indeed, a talent for doing this. Still, the American team should recognize that was only voicing what American allies all over the region were thinking: The goal of this operation was undermined by engaging Hamas’s patrons and allowing them to present an alternative agenda for the path forward.