US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday night and indicated that in his mind the demilitarization of Gaza will be a final step on the way to a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has indicated that in his mind this is something that needed to be dealt with more immediately The White House said that during the conversation Obama “underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’s rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.”
At the same time he once again “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.”
Obama stressed 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 cease-fire agreement.”
He reaffirmed the US support for Egypt’s initiative, as well as regional and international coordination to end hostilities.
The president, according to the statement, stressed the US view that, “ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”
The security cabinet met in a marathon session Sunday night to determine how to proceed with Operation Protective Edge, which enters its 21st day on Monday, following a day of cease-fires that were declared and subsequently violated.
Asked before the meeting during a Fox News interview whether the military campaign would continue, Netanyahu was noncommittal, saying that “we’ll do whatever is necessary to achieve our goal, which is to get sustainable quiet.”
Netanyahu has said in the past this could be achieved diplomatically or militarily, and the question of whether to continue the military track aggressively or turn more to the diplomatic one was at the forefront of the discussions taking place inside the security cabinet.
Among the eight members of the forum, three – Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan – have said that they are in favor of “going all the way” militarily.
Netanyahu, during another round of interviews he gave to US Sunday morning news programs – in the fourth consecutive week that he has made these rounds – made it clear that one thing that was not on the table was a cease-fire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend.
That proposal, which addressed Hamas’s demands for open border- crossings, freer access for people and goods, the transfer of money to pay salaries and extended fishing rights, was roundly rejected by Israel because it did not address Jerusalem’s two main concerns: dismantling the tunnels and demilitarizing Gaza.
Without mentioning the Kerry proposal by name, Netanyahu made clear that the only idea being entertained by Israel was an Egyptian proposal put forward two weeks ago and summarily rejected by Hamas, which then used Qatar and Turkey to try and improve the terms.
The pathway out of the crisis, he said on Fox News, “is to accept the Egyptian proposal. That’s the only game in town. What it will do is it will enable us to actually get a sustainable cease-fire.”
Washington, meanwhile, was extremely displeased with the criticism of the proposal coming from Jerusalem.
One senior American official said a draft of the proposal that appeared in Haaretz was just that – a draft – and did not constitute an “American proposal.” He made it clear this draft was a work in progress.
This is the draft that spelled out Hamas’s demands, but not Israel’s, listing them instead as “security concerns” that would be negotiated.
The official said some of the reports have included “gratuitous” and “ad hominem attacks,” including almost the charge that Kerry “betrayed” Israel. This, he said, was “extremely offensive coming from our closest ally in the region.” The official said some of the reports have also been “inaccurate” and contained “overheated assertions that mischaracterized his strategies and motivations.”
Addressing the issue of Turkey and Qatar’s participation in the discussions, especially on Saturday in Paris where Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian Authority representatives were not in attendance, had nothing to do with satisfying Hamas’s demands, but rather about conveying messages, receiving a response, and being able to influence the organization.
Netanyahu, asked during his interviews – with CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN – about efforts throughout the day to agree to temporary humanitarian cease-fires, Netanyahu said that Israel had accepted five of them already.
“Hamas has rejected every single one of them and violated every single one of them, including two humanitarian cease-fires, which we accepted and implemented in the last 24 hours,” he said. “Now they floated a cease-fire proposal, and you know what? This is quite astounding: they violated their own ceasefire and they’re firing at us as we speak.”
Netanyahu seemed to indicate that Israel’s willingness to accept these humanitarian cease-fires was now limited.
“Israel is not obliged and will not let a terrorist organization – a ruthless terror organization committed to our destruction – decide when it’s convenient for them to stop for a moment, rearm, and continuing firing on our citizens and our people.”
he said. ”We’ll determine what is important for our own security in the way that we can to protect our people, including working against these terror tunnels that they’re digging against us.“ Netanyahu said that a sustainable cease-fire consisted of two elements: demilitarization of Gaza and economic and social relief for the people of Gaza.
He then linked the two, saying that the international community’s willingness to provide mortar and concrete to Gaza to rebuild after the fighting should be tied to Gaza’s demilitarization.
“If you want economic and social relief for the people of Gaza, you have to make sure the demilitarization works,” he said. “Because if the international community will rush again to give cement, concrete for Hamas to build the buildings, they’ll use it for tunnels. So you have to have a mechanism to prevent the abuse of this cement or concrete.”
He said that if the uses of the money that will inevitably flow after the crisis was not monitored, and Hamas again used it to “manufacture rockets and missiles,” then in a short period of time “you’re going to be exactly where we are now.”
Netanyahu said that in the past the money the international community gave to build preschools in Gaza was used to build tunnels to blow up preschools in Israel.