WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he wants an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian” cease-fire in the war with Gaza, based on a process Israel has made clear it opposes.
The statement Sunday afternoon from the White House describing a phone call between the two leaders referred to cease-fire talks led in recent days by Secretary of State John Kerry which culminated in a proposal rejected unanimously on Friday by Israel’s security Cabinet.
“Building on Secretary Kerry’s efforts, the president made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the statement said.
Israeli leaders rejected Kerry’s proposal in part because it envisions talks with Hamas toward ends that Israel believes would reward a group it rejects as illegitimate, including opening Gaza’s borders.
Additionally, Israel wants any cease-fire to allow Israeli troops to continue tracking and destroying tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which Israel says were in place to facilitate a massive terrorist attack on Israeli communities.
Obama in his statement addressed some of the Israeli concerns, assurances that were not made explicit in drafts of Kerry’s proposal leaked to media over the weekend.
“The president underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’ rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself,” the statement said. “The president also reiterated the United States’ serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
The statement from Obama also nodded to another Israeli demand, that Gaza be demilitarized, although it suggested this was a long-term goal.
“The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza,” it said.
So far the conflict launched July 8 has killed more than 1,020 Palestinians, most of them civilians, as well as 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel.