As the conflict in Gaza enters its 22nd day under Operation Protective Edge, international officials are scrambling to put forth a ceasefire agreement that would be acceptable to both Israel and Hamas.
In a call last week between United State President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the president warned Israel that it must institute “an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now.”
In an apparently leaked transcript of the call, as reported by Israel’s state-run Channel 1, Obama appears forceful and somewhat “hostile” towards the prime minister in his demands for a ceasefire.
Reporter Oren Nahari, who has come under fire for exposing the transcript, said that a senior American official sent him the details of the 32 minute conversation between the two leaders.
While both Obama and Netanyahu spoke positively about support between both nations, the president became “unfriendly, stiff-necked, unwilling to listen to counter-arguments” and even “hostile,” Nahari explained, quoting the American official.
Obama is said to have brought up the topic of the ceasefire by telling Netanyahu: “I demand that Israel agrees to an immediate unilateral ceasefire and ends all attacks – especially air strikes.”
The conversation unfolds as follows:
Netanyahu responds: “And what will Israel receive in return for a ceasefire?”
Obama: “I believe that Hamas will stop firing rockets — calm in return for calm.”
Netanyahu, mentioning previous Hamas ceasefire rejections, tells the president. “It’s a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction.”
Obama, not listening says: “I repeat: I expect Israel to unilaterally cease all military operations. The images of destruction from Gaza distance the world from Israel’s position.”
Netanyahu tells Obama that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ceasefire proposal, which was unanimously rejected by Israel’s Security Cabinet on Friday, was “utterly unrealistic and provided Hamas with military and diplomatic advantages.”
Obama: “Within a week after Israel’s military operation ends, Qatar and Turkey will start negotiations with Hamas on the basis of 2012 ceasefire (which ended the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense), including Israel’s commitment to lift the siege and other restrictions on Gaza.”
Netanyahu responds that the US cannot rely on Qatar and Turkey, who are allies of Hamas, to be fair mediators.
Obama responds: “I trust Qatar and Turkey. Israel is not at all in the position to choose its mediators.”
Netanyahu, protesting Obama’s comments, is interrupted by the president: “The ball is in Israel’s court. It must end all its military operations.”
Both Israel and the US have vehemently denied the authenticity of the transcript. Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted the transcript was “totally false”.
A tweet from the National Security Council called Channel 1’s report “shocking and disappointing,” questioning why “someone would sink to misrepresenting” the conversation between the two leaders.
US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, rejected the leaked recording. On his official Twitter account, the ambassador wrote, “Have seen reports of an alleged Obama-Netanyahu transcript; neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality.”
The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem released a statement, denying the report: “We have seen these reports, and neither the reports nor the alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality. It’s shocking and disappointing that someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press.”
Meanwhile, Kerry is continuing his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East in his quest to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. On Tuesday, Kerry said that Netanyahu has asked for renewed help from the US to help broker a ceasefire.
“Last night we talked, and the prime minister talked to me about an idea and a possibility of a ceasefire. He raised it with me, as he has consistently,” Kerry said.
Concerning the Israeli media’s attacks on Kerry for favoring Hamas during ceasefire talks, the secretary stated,” I’ve taken hits before in politics. I’m not worried about that. It’s not about me – this is about Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Kerry’s previous ceasefire proposals have been rejected by Israel for being too favorable to Hamas. The last proposal asked Israel to freely open the border with Gaza, transfer money to Hamas to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza, and proposed a budget to “meet the welfare needs in Gaza.”
Regarding Israel’s demands, Kerry’s last proposal included a short mention addressing “Israel’s security needs.”
However, Kerry stressed: “We are working very carefully with our Israeli friends in order to be able to find a way to reduce the civilian loss of life, to prevent this from spiraling downwards into a place from which…both sides have difficulty finding a way forward.”
Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, terrorists in the Gaza Strip have fired 2,612 rockets on Israel. 506 of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The IDF has struck some 3,950 terror targets in the Strip.