LONDON – British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Saturday he would discuss with US, German and French foreign ministers the need for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians when they meet on Sunday for talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
“It is clear that we need urgent, concerted international action to secure a cease-fire, as was the case in 2012. I will discuss this with John Kerry, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier tomorrow in Vienna,” he said.
The ministers are due to hold talks on Sunday afternoon in Vienna to take stock of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program ahead of a self-imposed July 20 deadline to secure a deal.
Following phone calls with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said that he had stressed to both the need for an “immediate deescalation” and a restoration of the November 2012 cease-fire.
He also registered the UK’s “deep concern” about the number of civilian casualties and the need for all sides to “avoid further civilian injuries and the loss of innocent life.”
Referring to his call with Liberman, he said that “I told Minister Liberman that continuing rocket attacks from Gaza are completely unacceptable.
Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks, but the whole world wanted to see deescalation.”
In his conversation with Abbas, Hague said he had welcomed the PA president’s call for a cease-fire agreed by both sides, and urged him to do all he could to help bring this about. He also offered his condolences for the loss of civilian lives in Gaza.
Hague said that when he had spoken with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Thursday, he had stressed the strong support for an active Egyptian role in working for a cease-fire.
“The current crisis only underlines the need for a fundamental transformation of the situation in Gaza, including the restoration of Palestinian Authority control, the opening up of legitimate movement and access and a permanent end to the unacceptable threat of rocket attacks and other forms of violence from Gaza against Israel,” he said.
Echoing a call heard from many international politicians and diplomats, Hague said that the current conflict was a stark reminder of the need to make progress toward a permanent peace based on the two-state solution.
“However difficult that looks at this time, there is no alternative that can deliver peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. This is a time for bold leadership. Both sides should take the necessary steps towards a lasting peace and to address the underlying causes of the conflict and instability in Gaza,” he said, adding that Britain stood ready to do all it can to support that goal.
Jerusalem will no doubt be relieved at the language used in the UK’s ceasefire call, unlike on previous occasions involving rocket fire from Gaza when the term “disproportionate” was repeatedly used with respect to Israel’s attempts at defending itself.
Observers have suggested that Hague’s approach has on this occasion been somewhat governed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement about Britain’s “staunch support” for Israel following his conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last Wednesday night.
Reuters contributed to this report.