Kerry Urged to Get Tougher on Israel – By Americans Who Went Easy on Hamas

By Patrick Goodenough | April 10, 2014 | 6:25 AM EDT

Hamas gunmen and a Palestinian boy armed with a toy gun at a funeral of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in November 2012. (AP Photo, File)

( – A handful of former senior government officials who this week called on Secretary of State John Kerry to take a tougher line on Israel in his teetering Mideast peace effort are some of the same individuals who in a 2009 report urged the incoming Obama administration to change the U.S. approach towards Hamas.

At the time, those officials -- all associated with the U.S. Middle East Project (USMEP) -- urged the administration to “shift the U.S. objective from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas.”

“Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical, but shutting out the movement and isolating Gaza has only made it stronger and Fatah weaker,” they said.

Fatah is the movement of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip amid bloody clashes with Fatah forces in 2007, has been designated a foreign terrorist organization since the mid-1990s.

Israel blames Hamas for thousands of deadly terror attacks since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, ranging from suicide bombings in Israeli cities to the launching of rockets targeting southern Israeli towns from Gaza. It has also been responsible for the deaths of American citizens, including victims in bombings in Jerusalem in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

In that 2009 report, the USMEP-associated former officials argued that “the next six to twelve months may well represent the last chance for a fair, viable and lasting solution.”

Five years later, four of the signatories of that report – former national security advisor Zbigneiw Brzezinski, former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills and former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering – have now drafted a commentary that essentially tells Kerry he’s gone too easy on Israel.

Joining them in the article, published by Politico on Tuesday, were former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and USMEP President Henry Siegman.

The six focused on four areas – Israeli settlement activity, charges of incitement, Israel’s expectation that the P.A. recognize it as Jewish state, and Israel’s declared security requirements. In each one they criticized Israel’s stance, largely echoed Palestinian positions, and advised Kerry to take a firmer approach towards Israel.

Settlements, ‘incitement’

“U.S. disapproval of continued settlement enlargement in the Occupied Territories by Israel’s government as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘unhelpful’ does not begin to define the destructiveness of this activity,” they wrote.

“Halting the diplomatic process on a date certain until Israel complies with international law and previous agreements would help to stop this activity and clearly place the onus for the interruption where it belongs.”

The six writers suggested that although Israel accuses the P.A. of incitement when Palestinians claim all of the land, the actual incitement comes from Israeli politicians when they underline Israel’s historical claims to all of the land – for instance by calling areas claimed by the Palestinians “disputed” rather than “occupied.”

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge that various Palestinian claims to all of historic Palestine constitute incitement that stands in the way of Israel’s acceptance of Palestinian statehood reflects a double standard,” they said. “The Likud and many of Israel’s other political parties and their leaders make similar declarations about the legitimacy of Israel’s claims to all of Palestine, designating the West Bank ‘disputed’ rather than occupied territory.”

“Moreover, Israeli governments have acted on those claims by establishing Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. Surely the ‘incitement’ of Palestinian rhetoric hardly compares to the incitement of Israel’s actual confiscations of Palestinian territory.”

The six also echoed the Palestinian and Arab position on Israeli calls for the P.A. to recognize Israel explicitly as a Jewish state. (The P.A. “needs to recognize the state of the Jews just like they are demanding from us that we recognize the state of the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said last month.)

Israeli demands that Palestinians recognize that Israel has been and remains the national homeland of the Jewish people is intended to require the Palestinians to affirm the legitimacy of Israel’s replacement of Palestine’s Arab population with its own,” they wrote.

On the question of Israel’s stated security needs, the six figures again sided with the P.A.’s position rejecting Israel’s argument that maintaining a military buffer in the Jordan Valley is essential for the nation’s future security.

“No Palestinian leader could or would ever agree to a peace accord that entails turning over the Jordan Valley to Israeli control, either permanently or for an extended period of time, thus precluding a peace accord that would end Israel’s occupation,” they wrote.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow