In a conference call with Israeli reporters, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity disputed reports that a plan, which was flatly rejected by the Israeli cabinet on Friday afternoon, amounted to a formal proposal. It was, rather, a confidential draft framework presented by Kerry for Israeli comment and input.
The official also took issue with the way Kerry had been represented in media reports. Some media quoted Israeli government officials characterizing the draft as “complete capitulation” to Hamas.
One scathing report by Barak Ravid, a prominent reporter for the left-leaning Ha’aretz – usually known for harsh criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – said the plan put forward by Kerry “might as well have been penned by [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal.”
“The document recognized Hamas’ position in the Gaza Strip, promised the organization billions in donation funds and demanded no dismantling of rockets, tunnels or other heavy weaponry at Hamas’ disposal,” he wrote. “The document placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally and as if the second isn’t a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rockets at Israel.”
One reading of the regional political dynamics in the post-Egyptian coup era pits pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements such as Turkey, Qatar and Hamas against those opposed to the Brotherhood, including President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others.
Kerry’s diplomatic efforts of recent days have raised concerns in some circles that he is giving more weight to ceasefire ideas promoted by the Qatar-Turkey-Hamas axis, than those originally put forward by Egypt and backed by Abbas. (Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal, but Hamas rejected it.)
After Kerry held talks in Paris Saturday with his Turkish and Qatari counterparts – with neither Egypt nor the P.A./PLO represented – the PLO issued a terse statement saying the Palestinian people were not represented in the Paris talks, and that anyone wanting Turkey or Qatar to represent them “should go live there.”
A leading pan-Arab daily, Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported (in Arabic) on the PLO’s anger over the Paris meeting, and quoted an unnamed Palestinian official as alleging that Kerry was evidently trying to exploit the Gaza conflict to boost the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers.
Ha’aretz journalist Ravid wrote that the draft presented by Kerry and rejected by the Israeli cabinet “empowered the most radical and problematic elements in the region – Qatar, Turkey, and Hamas – and was a slap on the face to the rapidly forming camp of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who have many shared interests.”
Ravid did not suggest a hidden agenda in Kerry’s efforts, on the contrary describing him as “a true friend to Israel.”
But he did wonder about the secretary’s recent conduct, saying it raised “serious doubts over his judgment and perception of regional events. It’s as if he isn’t the foreign minister of the world’s most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”
In his comments Kerry said he understood the Palestinians’ desire to have goods coming in and out of the Gaza Strip and lives free from violence and “from the current restraints that they feel on a daily basis.”
“At the same time, Israelis need to live free from rockets and from tunnels that threaten them, and every conversation we’ve had embraces a discussion about these competing interests that are real for both,” he said. “And so we need to have a solution that works at this.”
On Saturday Israel agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire that ran from 8 AM to 8 PM, when it agreed to extend it until midnight. Between 8 PM and midnight, Israeli said several rockets had been fired from Gaza, in the direction of Ashkelon and Beersheva.
An Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) timeline said 10 rockets were fired into Israel between midnight and 8.30 AM and a soldier was killed by mortar fire from Gaza. Shortly after 10 AM, the IDF announced that, “Due to Hamas’ incessant rocket fire during the humanitarian window, we are renewing our aerial, naval and ground activity in Gaza.”
“[Hamas] is continuing to fire at us as we speak,” Netanyahu told CNN’s State of the Union. “Israel has accepted five ceasefires since this conflict began. Five. We accepted them and we implemented them – including two humanitarian ceasefires in the last 24 hours which Hamas rejected, as they rejected all the other ceasefires and violated them.”
“Hamas is simply continuing all its operations. And Israel will not let this terror operation decide when it’s convenient for them and when it’s not convenient for them to attack our people, when it’s convenient for them to restock, and reload and when it’s not convenient for them,” Netanyahu said. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to protect our people.”
President Obama spoke to Netanyahu by phone later Sunday, and called for “an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities.”
The White House said Obama had “reiterated the United States’ serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.”