Kerry, Netanyahu call ‘cut off,’ but resumed

Kerry, Netanyahu call ‘cut off,’ but resumed

State Department says no anger involved, only ‘communications issue,’ amid tensions between Israel and US

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, December 6, 2013 (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, December 6, 2013 (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

A call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry was disconnected on Sunday, reports claimed Tuesday, giving rise to media speculation on the strained state of diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Washington.

Reports Wednesday, however, said Netanyahu told Kerry he had to speak to bereaved parents before their son’s funeral, the secretary readily understood, and that the two leaders spoke again later.

“Their phone call was cut off,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing Tuesday, citing a “communications issue.”

Asked by one reporter if Netanyahu had hung up on Kerry in anger, she responded: “Sometimes calls get cut off. You — it was a brief call, is what I’m trying to convey. There was nothing… There was nothing that interesting about it, no. That was not the case. That was not the case.”

Tensions between Israel and the US have run high recently over American efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, with Israeli officials aiming sharp criticism at the secretary for his handling of the negotiations.

Under particular attack was his choice of turning to Qatar and Turkey as mediators, ostensibly undermining the Egyptian ceasefire proposal which Israel accepted three weeks ago and Hamas accepted this week. Turkey and especially Qatar have close ties with Hamas, while Egypt has shown an animosity towards the group since the toppling of Cairo’s Muslim Brotherhood government last year by now-President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

A ceasefire offer Kerry negotiated after talks with representatives from Qatar and Turkey, which he offered to Israel last Friday, was unanimously rejected by the Israeli security cabinet and panned as one that answered most of Hamas’s demands while giving Israel very little in return. Kerry later said it was only a draft.

Obama administration officials fumed over the criticism, warning that personal attacks on Kerry in the Israeli media crossed a line and could put the relationship between the US and Israel in jeopardy.

Since then several tense conversations have been reported between Israeli and American officials, and on Sunday the State Department issued an unusually strong condemnation of Israel, calling its actions appalling and “disgraceful” after a UN school in Gaza was hit by a tank shell, leaving 10 people dead.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, have downplayed the reports of a growing rift with Washington, and Netanyahu on Saturday called the American support throughout the operation “terrific.”

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