Even with US Secretary of State John Kerry holding talks in Cairo, and UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon doing the same in Jerusalem and Ramallah, there was no sign Tuesday night of an imminent cease-fire.
Ban did not mention any cease-fire proposal at a press conference in Tel Aviv alongside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while Kerry said in Cairo that the Egyptian cease-fire proposal – which Hamas rejected last week – was the “framework” to end the violence.
“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make, and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” Kerry said after a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
He added that “the Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians.”
The Egyptian proposal calls for a complete halt to violence, followed 48 hours later by the beginning of negotiations over a long-term arrangement for the Gaza Strip. The proposal also calls for eventually reopening Gaza’s closed border crossings and placing PA security officers there.
Kerry is expected to travel to Israel in the coming days, though no date has been formally advanced yet. He has been in continuous contact with Netanyahu, and a senior State Department official said the objective of Kerry’s visit to the region was “to get the fastest possible cease-fire.”
Ban arrived Tuesday afternoon and went immediately to the IAF headquarters in Tel Aviv for his meeting with Netanyahu.
Before the meeting, at the press conference with Ban, the prime minister said that the international community must take a “clear stand” and hold Hamas accountable for consistently rejecting various cease-fire proposals, and for “starting and prolonging this conflict.”
Ban expressed understanding for Israel’s position, saying that no country would accept rockets raining down on its civilians, and that all countries and parties had an international obligation to protect civilians.
The UN position was clear, he said: “We condemn strongly the rocket attacks, and these must stop immediately.”
Furthermore, he said, “we condemn the use of civilian sites, schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities for military purposes.” These comments contrasted starkly with remarks he made Sunday in Doha, after meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya.
“I know that while I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaia neighborhood in Gaza,” he said. “I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians. I repeat my demand to all sides that they must respect international humanitarian law.”
Ban said in Doha that Qatar and its leadership, which Israel views as key Hamas enablers, “are vital to regional efforts to resolve the crisis.”
It later emerged that Qatar had paid for the plane that is currently shuttling Ban around the Middle East.
In Tel Aviv, he said that his message to Israelis and Palestinians was the same: “Stop fighting, start talking, and take on the root causes of the conflict so we are not back in the same situation in another six months or a year.”
He defined those issues as including “mutual recognition, occupation, despair and denial of dignity.”
Ban said that he “fully shares” and appreciates Israel’s legitimate concern and its right to defend itself. He also urged to Israel to “exercise maximum restraint.”
The UN leader praised the Israeli people, saying that “even in the darkest hour, the people of this country have such a tremendous capacity for generosity and good.”
He then urged Israelis not to despair of the peace process, saying, “There is no viable alternative to a two-state solution.
No closure, no barrier will separate Israelis and Palestinians from a fundamental truth: You share one future.”
Netanyahu directly responded to Ban regarding the two-state solution option, saying that Hamas was just another manifestation of violent, Islamic extremist organizations like the Islamic State, al-Qaida, Hezbollah or Boko Haram.
Hamas’s grievance, he said, “is that we exist. They don’t want a two-state solution.
They don’t want any solution.”
Netanyahu opened his comments by saying that Israel was doing what any other country in the world would do in a similar situation.
“In the face of such wanton terror, no country could sit idly by. Israel is exercising its inherent and legitimate right of self-defense and acting decisively to end the threat to its civilians.”
While Israel was doing everything it could to avoid civilian casualties, he said, Hamas “wants more civilian casualties.”
Netanyahu showed Ban a display of rockets that had landed on Israeli cities, a video of IDF soldiers uncovering rockets at an agricultural school in Gaza, and diagrams of Hamas’s labyrinth of terrorist tunnels.
Meanwhile, before departing for Egypt, Kerry announced an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, reiterating US President Barack Obama’s growing concerns with the mounting civilian death toll from the conflict.
Some $15m. of those funds will boost operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, while the rest will go to USAID’s disaster, humanitarian and emergency relief efforts.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.