The United States on Sunday rejected Israeli criticism directed at Secretary of State John Kerry and his efforts to achieve an agreement between Israel and Hamas which would end the fighting, i24news military intelligence analyst Yossi Melman reports.
According to a senior US official, the draft proposal for a seven-day ceasefire given on Friday to the Israeli cabinet was based on a combination of the current Egyptian ceasefire proposal and the 2012 ceasefire agreement that ended the previous skirmish between Israel and Gaza. Both refer to the opening of crossings into Gaza but contain no specific mention on Israel’s security needs.
Israeli officials have expressed anger at the fact that Kerry’s proposal, allegedly published Sunday by the daily Haaretz, does not mention Israel’s security concerns and bans its continued destruction of the terror tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also expressed anger over Kerry's proposal. Abbas told the Lond-based al-Sharq al-Awsat that Kerry's new proposal undermined the Egyptian deal to which both the PA and Israel had agreed to, and was instead adopting Qatar and Turkey's recommendations. Kerry's new initiative refers to "Israel" and "Palestinian factions," without explicitly mentioning the PA, the Times of Israel reported.
i24news diplomatic correspondent Tal Shalev reported that a senior American official said that a controversial version of the ceasefire proposal published in Haaretz Sunday was not Kerry's but rather an older Egyptian version circulated between the parties and that the anger at Kerry was unfounded.
The American official went on to say that both Kerry and US President Barack Obama have stood by Israel throughout the conflict, affirming its right to protect itself and destroy the Hamas tunnels during the ongoing ground operation. Obama and Kerry have also voiced concerns over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza.
The official explained that Kerry believes that Egyptian leadership is key in reaching a ceasefire agreement, and that a lasting agreement should be based on the reconstruction and demilitarization of Gaza.
The US administration is pushing for rolling day-long ceasefires, during which Israeli-Palestinian talks would be held in Cairo with Egyptian mediation. “You have a way now to staunch the bleeding,” said the official.
The United States is concerned that the Gaza conflict could spill over into the West Bank. “Palestinians are seeing their people killed. So there’s a lot of tension there,” said the official.
Asked how Kerry’s meeting with the Qataris and Turks – a major sore point with Israel - fits into the picture, the official said, “It’s a relationship-building game". The United States does not like Qatar's funding Hamas, but believes that this gives Qatar leverage over the organization and an opening for the US to reach Hamas, as well. The US also believes that Turkey has a large regional influence.
"Israel has got to get this done", added the official
The draft described the urgent need of "protecting civilian lives, ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip and achieving a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution of the crisis."
A senior Israeli official told reporters over the weekend that Kerry "was digging a tunnel under" Egypt's proposed ceasefire with Hamas - which Israel has accepted and Hamas has rejected - a comment reflecting growing criticism of his handling of efforts to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Kerry's plan reportedly incorporates some of Hamas' demands, including an easing of restrictions on the passage of goods and businessmen from Israel to Gaza; expansion of the permitted Gaza fishing zone to 12 miles off the coast; the opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, to be manned by Palestinian Authority officials; and a promise to ensure the transfer of salaries to Gaza’s government employees.
According to the draft presented by Haaretz, over the course of the week-long cessation of hostilities, both sides were to allow the transfer of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine to the residents of Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces would not be asked to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, but would be forbidden from continuing to operate against the tunnels it has located.
The final clause of the draft determined that "members of the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States, Turkey, Qatar and many others, support the effective implementation of the humanitarian cease-fire and agreements reached between the parties, in cooperation and coordination with the parties, and will join in a major humanitarian assistance initiative to address the immediate needs of the people of Gaza.
Within Kerry's draft, Egypt's traditional role of supervising implementation of the agreement has been passed to Turkey and Qatar – two states which support Hamas and are hostile to Israel.
Well before the fighting began on July 8, Israel had been considering an easing of its restrictions imposed on Gaza in recent years to prevent the smuggling of materials, weapons and people intended for use in terrorist activity. Nonetheless, Israel does not want to be perceived now as rewarding Hamas in any way for its rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel.
In Paris, Kerry met European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers Saturday to push both sides to extend the temporary cessation of hostilities which went into effect Saturday morning.
Israel agreed to extend its ceasefire for an additional 24 hours, but Hamas did not.
"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris after the meeting with Kerry and counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar, as well as an EU representative.
A spokesman for the UN chief said in a statement Ban Ki-moon "urgently appeals once again to all parties to declare a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza".