WASHINGTON — The Obama administration went on the defensive Monday afternoon, critiquing Israeli sources for leaking details of a Gaza ceasefire draft, downplaying the status of the draft, and then denying allegations that the draft represented a capitulation to Hamas demands.
“We were surprised that the draft was leaked to the press,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. Leaks and criticism of the sort that Secretary of State John Kerry faced over the weekend are “simply not the way allies and partners treat each other,” Psaki complained.
Psaki emphasized that “there was never a formal US proposal presented,” explaining that the US had instead “sent a confidential-labeled draft of ideas based on Egyptian proposal.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken took a step even further back than Psaki, describing the leaked document as a “discussion paper based on… the original Egyptian initiative.”
Blinken suggested that “what was leaked, unfortunately, I think was misinformed, or an effort to misinform.”
Blinken also defended Kerry, arguing that “Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender.”
“No one,” said Blinken, “has done more” to achieve peace in the region.
Far from including Hamas demands, as Israeli officials complained that the US plan did, Psaki said that the “main difference” was that the US draft included more specific language regarding humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Defending against Israeli complaints that the document did not address the problems of Hamas terror tunnels into Israel, Psaki said that there was no mention of tunnels in the Egyptian ceasefire proposal that Israel had already approved, and which Hamas rejected.
Psaki also defended against complaints that Kerry’s primary interlocutors in configuring his proposal were not Israel, the Palestinian Authority or Egypt, but rather Turkey and Qatar.
“When people are dying, it’s important to engage parties that have influence on Hamas,” she countered.
The “US objective has been and remains stopping the rocket fire against Israeli citizens,” Psaki continued, adding that the first step to such an outcome was the maintenance of a humanitarian ceasefire.
Addressing members of the media early Monday afternoon, Blinken acknowledged that the challenges posed by urban counterterror operations were not limited to Israel. “Civilian suffering in Gaza is great and growing every day,” he said, adding that “this is a problem we’ve grappled with in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Likewise, Blinken said that “the record is clear” that Israel acceded to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, while Hamas did not, and “intentionally targets civilians.”