Amid the announcement of a 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza, the Obama Administration indignantly protests that its diplomacy has been unfairly maligned by critics, especially in Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry, officials say, has merely been trying to stop the bloodshed on the basis of previous cease-fire agreements, including an Egyptian plan that Israel accepted just two weeks ago.
The U.S. account is mostly correct, and even some Israeli officials concede that the sometimes-personal criticism of Mr. Kerry in Jerusalem went too far. Yet there is a good reason that Israelis across the political spectrum, as well as the Egyptian government and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reacted badly to Mr. Kerry’s efforts.
U.S. strategy has failed to take into account how the fighting in Gaza during the past two weeks, as well as the Middle East’s shifting political alignments, have changed how America’s closest allies view the conflict’s end game.
The big revelation of this Gaza fight has been the degree to which Hamas has invested in stockpiling missiles capable of striking Israeli cities and building tunnels whose only purpose is to carry out offensive attacks inside Israel. Israel insists, reasonably, that its troops remain in Gaza at least long enough to destroy the tunnels. It is also making the obvious point that a solution to the conflict must prevent Hamas from focusing Gaza’s economy on the production of more missiles and tunnels.
Mr. Kerry’s proposal did not directly tackle that problem. Promising vaguely to “address all security issues,” it offered Hamas the explicit prospect of a border opening and funding to pay its government employees.
These terms were promoted by Hamas’ regional allies, Turkey and Qatar. Mr. Kerry’s resort to them as mediators was questionable: It sidelined the secular governments of Egypt and Mr. Abbas, which stand on the other side of the Middle East’s divide between pro- and anti-Islamist forces.
Israel demands that Hamas be disarmed as part of any peace. Although the Obama Administration rhetorically endorsed that goal, it doesn’t seem to regard it as feasible in the short term.
The objective should be explored more seriously. It might be possible to make Hamas’ surrendering of its missiles the condition for steps that would enable Gaza’s economic development, such as the opening of a seaport — a trade-off that most Gazans would welcome. At a minimum, new security provisions should aim at preventing Hamas from importing more military supplies.
More broadly, the Obama Administration should be working with Egypt, Mr. Abbas, and Israel to end the conflict in a way that reduces rather than reinforces Hamas’ power over Gaza. A recent agreement between Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement and Hamas to form a single government for the West Bank and Gaza, followed by elections, could provide a mechanism.
Mr. Abbas, who has been working closely with Egypt, is reportedly proposing that his U.S.-trained security forces secure the border between Gaza and Egypt, displacing Hamas.
In its zeal to end the violence in Gaza, the Obama Administration may have set back such creative and constructive solutions. It should get behind them.
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