Israel disputes US account of Kerry’s ceasefire effort

While US says document conveyed to cabinet on Friday was just a draft, didn’t require a vote, and didn’t help Hamas, sources tell ToI that ministers were asked to vote and did so 8-0 to reject a proposal that gave Hamas specific gains

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C), and IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz seen during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C), and IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz seen during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Amid strains between Israel and the US over diplomatic moves to resolve the conflict with Hamas, Israeli official sources on Monday flatly rejected a series of American assertions Sunday about Secretary of State John Kerry’s ceasefire efforts.

In a briefing late Sunday, a senior American official told Israeli journalists that the document conveyed by Kerry to the Israeli leadership on Friday was not a ceasefire proposal but rather “a draft… that emerged from discussions between a number of parties.” The official, who asked not be named, added that the document “was provided for comment and input, not for rejection or acceptance,” that it was “fully consistent with the Egyptian proposal,” and that it did not aim to satisfy Hamas demands. The official also castigated parts of the Israeli media for misreporting Kerry’s work, mischaracterizing his strategy and motivations, and launching gratuitous attacks on him, including accusations of betrayal.

Sources thoroughly familiar with what went on at Friday’s security cabinet meeting told The Times of Israel on Monday, however, that the document conveyed by Kerry was presented to the ministers as a ceasefire proposal, and that they were asked to vote on whether to accept or reject it. The vote was by a formal show of hands, and the result was a unanimous rejection of the proposal.

Furthermore, the sources said, it was clear to the ministers that the document undermined the Egyptian ceasefire proposal that Israel had previously accepted and Hamas had rejected, and that it reflected the input of Turkey and Qatar to the clear benefit of Hamas. The wording marked an upgrading of Hamas’s standing, to an entity on an equivalent level with Israel, the sources said. And it provided specific gains for Hamas while including only amorphous language regarding Israel’s security needs, they said.

It was rejected wall to wall, the sources said, eight to zero.

Soon after the US official’s conference call with Israeli journalists late Sunday, US President Barack Obama telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called for “an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.” According to the White House, the president “reaffirmed the United States’ support for Egypt’s initiative, as well as regional and international coordination to end hostilities.”

Obama also stressed the US view that, “ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza” — a demand increasingly heard by the Israeli leadership and one that was not included in the document conveyed by Kerry to the Israeli leadership, according to the reports of that text that have emerged to date.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said he failed to understand why the US was surprised by Israeli criticism of Kerry and the ceasefire proposal he had promoted.

“You send it, you own it. If he submits it, it’s his paper,” the official said of the paper Kerry conveyed to the Israeli cabinet Friday. The mere fact that Kerry presented this proposal showed that he wanted Israel to consider it and make a counteroffer. “Nobody said Kerry wrote this all by himself. Nobody said he meant it as a take it or leave it proposal. But what Israelis cannot even begin to understand is how could he even think of forwarding this to the cabinet for consideration. That’s the scandal. It’s offensive that he would send it.”

The fact that Israeli analysts and observers throughout Israel’s political landscape – from the Israel Hayom newspaper, which is close to Netanyahu, to the left-leaning Haaretz – utterly condemned the proposal should tell the Americans that “perhaps Kerry screwed up this time,” the official said. “If Israelis from such a wide variety of political affiliations unanimously reject this idea, maybe it’s time for some soul-searching.”

Even the Palestinian Authority rejected the plan and expressed disappointment over Kerry’s behavior, the official added. “In their public statements, they cited the same arguments as the Israelis, which just goes to show that there are incredible flaws in this plan.”

The American administration should learn how to “take criticism with a sporting attitude,” the official continued, wondering aloud whether the senior official who on Sunday criticized the Israel media for attacking Kerry had ever heard of freedom of the press.

“Having said that, of course one should not engage in character assassination. We’re outraged by this ceasefire proposal, but Kerry and the US remain our best friends and nobody is forgetting that,” he said.

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