What was Kerry doing?

David Harsanyi tries to account for John Kerry’s decision to hand Israel a proposed ceasefire agreement, driven by Qatar (Hamas’ sponsor) and Turkey, so favorable to Hamas that Israel was bound not only to reject it, but to take offense. This is what Kerry proposed:

• Rather than empowering Fatah, recognizing Hamas as the legitimate authority in the Gaza Strip, though it is considered a terrorist organization by the Justice Department and an entity that’s founding principle and driving purpose is to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.

•Rather than choking off this organization’s lifeline, allowing them to collect billions in ‘charity’ that would be been able to use to rearm, retrench and reengage in hostilities.

•Making no demands on Hamas to get rid of its rockets, or its tunnels and other weaponry used to instigate war – while at the same it limiting Israel’s ability to take them out. (This final point is disputed by U.S. officials.)

What was Kerry doing?

David Ignatius, as to whom Scott has the goods, believes that Kerry’s proposal was not the product of anti-Israel bias. Rather, it stemmed from his “bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal.”

This is absurd. There was never a chance that Kerry’s one-sided proposal would produce such a deal.

Harsanyi thus concludes that “we either have an incompetent Secretary of State or a momentous shift in Middle East policy.”

We do, indeed, have an incompetent Secretary of State. And under President Obama, our Middle East policy has shifted momentously.

But neither phenomenon seems sufficient to explain Kerry’s proposal. Incompetence is one thing; stupidity another. And the U.S. could have manifested its tilt away from Israel without presenting a proposal it knew would be rejected so emphatically.

My theory is that the Obama administration expected some within the Israeli government to go ballistic, and wanted that reaction.

Why would the American administration want to generate openly expressed outrage against its Secretary of State? To create leverage. Team Obama could respond to Israeli outrage with outrage of its own. Israel, fearing a deterioration in relations with its traditional ally, would then feel pressure to “make nice” by offering concessions.

We’ve seen a variation on this act before. In March 2010, during a visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the Interior Ministry announced plans to build new 1,600 apartment units in Ramat Schlomo.

The Obama administration hit the roof. Hillary Clinton, for example, chewed out Prime Minister Netayahu for 45 minutes and then ordered her PR department to boast to the press about it (Clinton would now like rewrite this history).

The result? Israel froze both the Ramat Schlomo building and other projects. The freeze lasted until, two and a half years later, the PA announced that it would attempt to gain observer status at the U.N.

The announcement of the construction plans during Biden’s visit was a gaffe. As for the U.S. reaction, one can debate whether it was proportionate to the Israeli offense.

For present purposes, the point is that the Obama administration learned that by taking offense at alleged disrespect for its leading players, it can influence Israeli policy.

This, I suspect, is why Kerry proffered a ceasefire proposal that he (or someone smarter) knew would produce a show of disrespect for our foghorn Secretary of State.

But building housing units lacks the urgency of degrading Hamas’ ability to attack Israel. One hopes, therefore, that the Obama administration’s ginned up outrage will have no discernible effect on Israeli policy in Gaza.

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