- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Israel unleashed its heaviest bombardment in its three-week-old campaign against Hamas in Gaza on Tuesday as the Obama administration battled the growing perception among Israelis that Secretary of State John F. Kerry is a hapless bumbler in search of a cosmetic truce.

Diplomatic efforts remained stalled despite a death toll that Palestinian officials said rose above 1,200 on Tuesday. The shadowy leader of the Hamas military wing said his group will not cease fire until an economic embargo is ended and other demands are met.

After his latest round of mediation failed to achieve a cease-fire, Mr. Kerry has been portrayed in the Israeli media as a blunderer who unwittingly represented the interests of Hamas, a terrorist organization that declares the death of all Jews everywhere to be a religious duty.

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“U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” columnist Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz, Israel’s most influential liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack.’”

Mr. Kerry said Tuesday he is not concerned about personal attacks.

“I’ve taken hits before in politics. I’m not worried about that,” he told reporters. “This is not about me. This is about Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself.”

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He said he is in frequent contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are working very carefully and, I think, thoughtfully with our Israeli friends in order to be able to find a way to reduce the civilian loss of life, to prevent this from spiraling downwards,” Mr. Kerry said.

Some of the attacks on Mr. Kerry in the Israeli press have been attributed to unnamed Cabinet ministers, who described a U.S. cease-fire draft proposal as a “prize to terror.” They complained that Mr. Kerry and the Obama administration were being unduly influenced by Turkey and Qatar, whom Israelis view as being on the side of Hamas.

Mr. Kerry’s eroded credibility is raising questions about his effectiveness at mediating in the Middle East.

Asked whether Mr. Kerry has lost some credibility in Israel, Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, replied, “Some? He has none.”

These and similar criticisms have prompted Obama administration officials to rush to Mr. Kerry’s defense.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, asked whether the criticism in Israel has hampered Mr. Kerry’s ability to broker a cease-fire, said, “We do not think so.”

“It is in the interest of the Israeli people for the harsh words that we’ve seen directed at the secretary [to] not affect his ability to continue to be a strong advocate for them,” Mr. Earnest said. “Secretary Kerry has worked doggedly over the last year or so since he took office … pressing both sides … to the negotiating table in search of a broader peace agreement. He is going to continue to work very hard on this.”

Mr. Earnest called Mr. Kerry “an important element of resolving the situation, because he is somebody who is well versed in all these issues.”

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