Michael Oren, who until recently served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, said Monday that US envoy John Kerry was coming to the region despite Sunday’s hot-mic incident making it clear that he had not been invited.
The US secretary of state headed to Cairo Monday for discussions surrounding a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The White House said Kerry would seek “an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” and stressed the need to protect civilian life both “in Gaza and in Israel.”
In comments to Channel 2 on Monday afternoon, Oren cited the Obama administration’s strained relations with Egypt, and the “tension” in ties between the US and Israel. To Israel’s chagrin, he said, America has consequently not been able to play a more constructive role in this crisis, whereas previous administrations had been able to do so in past crises. He commented on the way the Administration handled the Arab spring, the blame it placed on Israel for the failure of the peace process, and the US’s strained ties with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Oren said Kerry and the Obama administration have close ties with Qatar and Turkey, “who are not on the best terms with Egypt right now.”
Oren emphasized that Kerry, who made things worse with a live-microphone slip Sunday criticizing the scope of Israel’s operation, was coming to the region even though that hot-mic incident showed he had “not been invited.”
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry told an aide over the phone on Sunday, seemingly criticizing the Israeli government’s pledge to limit the scope of its ground invasion, Politico reported. Kerry used the same word, “pinpoint,” that was employed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Sunday interview with CNN.
Later in the phone call, Kerry added: “We’ve got to get over there…. I think John, we ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around.”
It was plain from those remarks that Kerry decided on his own to come to the region, Oren said, rather than being invited to do so.
Oren’s comments followed remarks Sunday by Channel 2′s veteran Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari, who said that as far as Israel is concerned, the secretary of state’s ceasefire trip was premature “and bad for Israel,” and that he should have left it to the Egyptians to lead the ceasefire effort. Ya’ari said many people, “including senior American officials,” tried to convey this to Kerry.
This marks the continuing trend of the Obama administration “to give credit” to the Muslim Brotherhood, in this case Hamas, Ya’ari said, except that now it’s graver, because “we’re in a war.”
Kerry did defend Israel’s position over the weekend.
Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it Hamas’s attacks on Israel are “unacceptable by any standard anywhere in the world” and that Israel must protect its citizens.
In response to a question on ABC’s “This Week,” Kerry dismissed claims that Israel was committing genocide as “rhetoric that we’ve heard many, many times.”
Kerry turned his answer into an excoriation of Hamas and continued, “What they need to do is stop rocketing Israel and accept a ceasefire. It’s very, very clear that they’ve tunneled under Israel. They’ve tried to come out of those tunnels with people with handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs to capture Israeli citizens and hold them for ransom, or worse. They’ve been rocketing Israel with thousands of rockets.
“They’ve been offered a ceasefire, and they’ve refused to take the ceasefire. Even though Egypt and others have called for that ceasefire, they’ve just stubbornly invited further efforts to try to defuse the ability to be able to rocket Israel.”
Kerry, a combat veteran, said that the situation in Gaza was “ugly, obviously,” acknowledging that “war is ugly, and bad things are going to happen,” but he added that “they” — not specifying whether he meant Hamas or the Palestinian Authority as a whole — “need to recognize their own responsibility.
“We have offered to have a ceasefire and then negotiate the issues. We’ve obviously shown our bona fides in the United States, and the president has put his presidency behind the effort to try to find peace in the region,” he continued. “So they need to join up and be responsible and accept a unilateral — not a unilateral, but a multilateral ceasefire without conditions, and then we pledge to discuss all the underlying issues, which we’ve been trying to do for the last year-and-a-half.”
Aron Donzis and Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: A previous version of the story characterized Oren’s comments as implying Kerry should not be coming to the region. Oren disputes that his comments reflected that view.