Obama administration officials were fuming Monday over a torrent of Israeli criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, reports the Associated Press.
In unusually harsh language, officials said the criticism of Kerry could put the relationship between the U.S. and Israel in jeopardy. They also said the attacks on Kerry crossed a line and were particularly disappointing at a time of active conflict.
Israeli media commentators have leveled almost nonstop criticism at Kerry in recent days for failing to understand the nature of the conflict and for undermining Israel in several ways. Israel has been critical of Kerry’s attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey–two countries strongly supportive of Hamas–into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also being accused of abandoning Israel’s key demands during the negotiations, and of making cease-fire proposals strongly advantageous to Hamas.
Israel is an ally of the United States. Hamas is designated by the US, EU, and Israel as a terror organization. Israelis have been generally critical of American and UN attempts to prevent it from achieving its military goals against Hamas.
In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, “U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” wrote respected columnist Ari Shavit, in Monday’s Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials,” he noted, “in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack’.”
Kerry made no direct mention of the criticism during brief remarks Monday. However, he did seek to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel.
“Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups,” Kerry said, at the same time the White House was calling for an unconditional cease-fire without mentioning any disarmament.
Kerry returned to Washington Sunday after a week of shuttle diplomacy in the region failed to secure the week-long cease-fire he sought.
U.S. frustration with Israel seeped into the White House’s readout of a phone call Sunday between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House said Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. had “serious and growing concern” about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. He also called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire,” according to the White House, with no mention of demilitarization of Gaza, Israel’s key objective, as part of the cease-fire.
Kerry’s efforts at Middle East diplomacy earlier this year angered Israel, where many in the government were critical of what they perceived as Kerry’s abandonment of Israeli core positions and conducting negotiations that left the parties farther apart than when they started. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reportedly suggested that Kerry pick up a Nobel Prize for his efforts, then leave the Israelis and Palestinians alone.