‘Strongly’ but cautiously, US welcomes truce

‘Strongly’ but cautiously, US welcomes truce

Kerry says US and its partners ready to work on reconstruction to benefit the civilian population in Gaza, not Hamas

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

John Kerry speaking on June 19. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry speaking on June 19. (photo credit: US State Department)

WASHINGTON — With strong but cautious support for the Israel-Gaza truce agreement, the United States indicated Tuesday that it would cooperate with other international partners in a massive reconstruction plan for the Gaza Strip. While hesitating to release details of the agreement reached in Cairo, State Department officials suggested that while the open-ended truce included plans for Gazan recovery, there was no stipulation of terms requiring the disarmament of Hamas.

Hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in which he said that the US “strongly supports” the agreement, adding that “we hope very much that this ceasefire will prove to be durable and sustainable, that it will put an end to rocket and mortar attacks, and that it will help to bring about an enduring end to the conflict in Gaza.”

Kerry said that the US and the international committee were “fully committed” to an acceleration of “the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza must be accelerated.”

He also said that the US and its partners “are prepared to work on a major reconstruction initiative, with appropriate measures in place to ensure that this is for the benefit of the civilian population in Gaza, not Hamas and other terrorist organizations.”

Kerry emphasized that the US would “coordinate closely” with the Palestinian Authority in its recovery efforts.

At the same time, Kerry sounded a tone of caution, saying that “we are all aware that this is an opportunity, not a certainty,” and later adding that “we are approaching the next phase with our eyes wide open. We have been down this road before and we are all aware of the challenges ahead.”

The secretary of state, whose nine-month attempt to broker a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict crashed earlier this year in a hail of mutual accusations by the two sides, gestured to a renewed effort to bring both sides back to the table.

Kerry said that there had been “many hours and days of intensive discussions about how a sustainable ceasefire might provide the space and the opportunity to address long-term issues,” and that he had informed both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that “the United States is ready to continue our engagement in that effort.”

He emphasized that “certain bedrock outcomes are essential if there is to be long term solution for Gaza,” saying that “Israelis have to be able to live in peace and security, without terrorist attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, without sirens going off and families scrambling to bomb shelters” and that “Palestinians also need to be able to live in peace and security and have full economic and social opportunities to build better lives for themselves and for their children.”

Earlier in the day, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki ducked offering details regarding the terms of the ceasefire, deferring to the Egyptians to announce specific conditions of the agreement.

Psaki confirmed that there would be a delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and that the US planned to work with international partners on a major reconstruction initiative, but at the same time she indicated that no commitment had been made in the ceasefire to a demilitarization of Gaza or a disarming of Hamas.

“We support the disarmament of Hamas but know that it is not an overnight effort,” Psaki said, adding that any specific deals on the topic will be part of the continuing negotiations anticipated for the period in which the ceasefire is in effect.

The American Jewish Congress called Tuesday for a general demilitarization of Gaza as a crucial element of the ceasefire.

American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen issued a statement in which he suggested that “if this ceasefire is to succeed, Hamas must decide once and for all that it is more important to improve the lives of the residents of Gaza than to bolster its rocket caches — to use its border crossings to bring in food and medical supplies instead of concrete for terror tunnels.”

“A demilitarized Gaza, free from rockets and tunnels, with a boosted Palestinian Authority security presence led by President Mahmoud Abbas, may be the type of shift that could set the stage for renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” Rosen suggested, warning that “first, the eyes of the world must turn toward Hamas and ensure that the end to the current violence is not merely a ‘timeout’ to rebuild a regime of terror that has cost so many lives on both sides.”

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