President Obama tried to rescue American diplomacy on Sunday night with a phone call to Benjamin Netanyahu, hours after the Israeli Prime Minister effectively killed a US proposal for a ceasefire in the 20-day war in Gaza.
Obama “made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire”, leading to “a permanent cessation of hostilities” based on a ceasefire agreement after the last Israeli attacks on Gaza in November 2012, according to the official White House summary.
However, in a tilt back to Israel’s position, Obama began with “the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’ rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself”, and he concluded with a reference to West Jerusalem’s core demand that the Gazan leadership be stripped of any armed security force: “Any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”
Israel began Sunday with a systematic demolition of the ceasefire plan promoted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, after days of discussions in Cairo. Israeli officials leaked the proposal to a top diplomatic correspondent, with the headlines that it did not even address West Jerusalem’s core demand of the destruction of tunnels from Gaza into Israel — the official justification for its airstrikes and ground invasion.
The officials complained that Kerry had stepped away from the initial Egyptian ceasefire proposal, rejected by Hamas because it made no reference to political issues such as Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Instead, the Israeli officials said, Kerry had pushed back Egypt in favor of Turkey and Qatar, who had accepted that some of Hamas’s conditions must be in the agreement.
Netanyahu followed with a series of interviews on Sunday political talk shows in the US, insisting that it was Hamas preventing any ceasefire. He repeated claims that Hamas carries the blame for more than 1,000 Gazan deaths, because it used civilians as human shields.
The Prime Minister said that he realized world opinion might be shifting away from his nation with every Palestinian civilian’s death, but added that the public relations battle cannot supersede Israel’s security concerns.
This morning, it appears that his effort had won back at least one prominent American.