JERUSALEM—Secretary of State John Kerry came under scathing criticism from Israeli officials and the Israeli press over the weekend for what they characterized as his bungled attempt to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza.
An unnamed government minister was quoted by Israel’s Channel Two TV as accusing Kerry of "completely capitulating" to Hamas’ demands in a draft agreement the secretary put forward Friday for a temporary cease-fire intended to open the way to negotiations.
The diplomatic correspondent of Haaretz, Israel’s most liberal daily, wrote that Kerry’s draft plan stunned the Israeli cabinet and was a complete reversal of what they had been told was his position the day before. "It sounded like it came from a parallel universe," wrote Barak Ravid.
The draft plan, he wrote, promised billions for Gaza’s redevelopment and met other demands Hamas is making as a pre-condition to an extended cease-fire while making no mention at all of Israeli demands, primarily the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’ rocket capacity.
"The document," Ravid wrote, "placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally, and as if the second isn’t a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rounds at Israel."
The reporter wrote that Kerry was "a true friend" of Israel but that his conduct in recent days over the Gaza issue "raises serious doubts about his judgment and his perception of regional events."
At Friday’s cabinet meeting, the "appalled" ministers chose not to issue an official statement rejecting Kerry’s draft in order to avoid an open diplomatic confrontation with its major ally, according to the Times of Israel. The decision was instead leaked on Saturday.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated clearly on Sunday that he rejected Kerry’s proposal, saying the only cease fire proposal on the table was that put forward by Egypt two weeks ago when it was accepted by Israel and rejected by Hamas. The Egyptian proposal does not embrace any pre-conditions by the parties concerned. Instead, it calls for a 48-hour halt to violence, to be followed by indirect negotiations in Cairo for a long-term cease-fire arrangement.
Channel Two’s diplomatic reporter, Udi Segal, said that Israeli ministers described Kerry’s behavior as "negligent", "lacking the ability to understand the issues" and "incapable of handling the most basic matters."
Haaretz’s New York correspondent, Chemi Shalev, wrote that Jerusalem’s need to reject Kerry’s unbalanced cease-fire proposal "brings Israel closer to international condemnation".
"One can’t deny Kerry’s almost inexplicable series of mishaps and faux pas," wrote Shalev. "Increasingly Kerry comes across as a hapless nebekh (an ineffectual person)."