The US wants to see Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority restored to ruling Gaza after the current conflict is over, and will make efforts to bring this about, American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro indicated Saturday night.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Shapiro was asked about the unity government formed last month by Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas. He did not reply directly and instead noted that Abbas was currently in close contact with Egypt, trying to broker a ceasefire to end the Hamas-Israel hostilities. Then he said, “At the end of this conflict, we’ll seek to help the moderate elements among the Palestinians to become stronger in Gaza,” referring to Abbas’s PA. “They might be able to run Gaza more effectively than Hamas, a terror organization.”
Hamas ousted Abbas’s forces in a violent takeover in 2007.
Echoing remarks made by President Barack Obama in public and in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, Shapiro said the US “strongly backs Israel’s right to defend itself. It’s intolerable for any state to have rockets fired at its citizens, or terrorists infiltrating via tunnels.” He said the US “understands the need for the current ground offensive.”
Asked if that support came with reservations, Shapiro said, “There is no ‘yes, but’ ” to that US backing. “At the same time, we worry about injury, after a [possible] further escalation, to civilians, on both sides by the way, and hope Israel will continue to run the operation in the way that minimizes the harm to civilians as much as possible.” He added that this is an imperative Israel recognizes.
Shapiro denied that the US had given support to any ceasefire initiative except the Egyptian one, saying that its contacts with all its friends in the region had been designed to encourage others to back the Egyptian plan. He did not directly address a question as to whether the US had gotten involved in Qatari ceasefire efforts, which are backed by Hamas and rejected by Israel.
The US supported the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, and only the Egyptian proposal, he said. “We still support the Egyptian initiative.”
“Only the Egyptians” have the history, the connections and the regional clout to broker a ceasefire deal, added Shapiro, recalling that they did so in 2012.
Shapiro said Secretary of State John Kerry was currently in contact with all relevant parties, and that “at the right moment,” after the necessary consultations, Kerry was ready to come to the region to assist in ceasefire efforts.
When it was put to the ambassador that Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman had reportedly told Kerry that Israel needs to retake control of Gaza in order to thwart the Hamas threat, Shapiro said diplomatically, “That’s not the goal of the current operation.”
Speaking Friday, Obama said he had encouraged Netanyahu to minimize civilian deaths in Israel’s ground push into Hamas-ruled Gaza, while letting him know that the US supports Israel’s right to self-defense.