US President Barack Obama has called on Israel to maintain an immediate, condition free humanitarian ceasefire with Gaza with a final goal of permanently ending all hostilities.
In a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday, Obama affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense and called for terror groups in Gaza to disarm.
“The President made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House said in a statement.
“The President affirmed the United States’ support for Egypt’s initiative, as well as regional and international coordination to end hostilities,” the statement added.
Obama reiterated his administrations “strong condemnation” of Hamas’s actions but said that there needs to be “a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addressed Gaza’s long-term development and economic need, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority.”
It is the president’s belief that “any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”
The president expressed his “serious and growing concern” over the increasing number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza, “as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
Hamas officials have already dismissed Obama’s call for a ceasefire. Senior Hamas member Izzat Al-Rishq posted on his Facebook, “We say for the millionth time. Those who try to take our weapons, we will take their lives.”
The president’s call comes at a precarious time in US-brokered ceasefire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the Middle East as part of negotiations efforts, pushed forth a proposal this past week that is being called one-sided, favoring Hamas.
Kerry, who met with mediators from Qatar and Turkey and are negotiating on behalf of Hamas, had a majority of their demands included in Kerry’s proposal. Kerry’s proposal touched upon three main issues: reconstruction of Gaza, border crossings and finances.
The proposal asked that all border crossings into Gaza be opened to allow the free flow of goods and people. Kerry asked that money be transferred to Hamas to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza. In terms of reconstruction, the secretary proposed a budget to “meet the welfare needs of Gaza.”
Regarding Israel’s demands, Kerry’s proposal includes a short mention addressing “Israel’s security needs.” Many critics of the proposal are saying Kerry was too generous with Hamas’s demands. Israel’s Security Cabinet unanimously rejected Kerry’s proposal on Friday night.
Voices from Israel’s left and right have expressed their concerns over the United States’ interference. MK Ze;ev Elkin, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, rejected Obama’s calls for an immediate ceasefire.
“The international pressure has begun,” he told Ynet. “When we once listened to the Americans and we allowed Hamas to participate in elections, Hamas took over Gaza and we received a terrorist entity. Hamas is a terrorist organization just like al-Qaeda, so there is no reason to talk about negotiations.”
Labor MK Nachman Shai told Channel 10 that “the United State imposed a ceasefire upon us too early” and that it would be hard for Israel to say not the US.
International pressure is also mounting on Israel from the United Nations. The UN Security Council convened Sunday evening and expressed “strong support” for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza over the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of Ramadan.
The Council also called upon Israel and Hamas “to engage in efforts to achieve a dirable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative.”
Over the last two weeks, Israel has agreed to several humanitarian ceasefires in Gaza to allow the residents there time to recuperate. However, Hamas has rejected each ceasefire and continued to rain down a barrage of rockets upon Israel, forcing the IDF to act.
While Israel has yet to officially recognize a ceasefire, Israeli officials hinted late Sunday that the army would scale down on its operation in Gaza over the three day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which starts Monday. However, officials made clear that they would act in response to ongoing rocket fire or to foil terror plots.