Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the root cause of this summer’s 50-day conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups was Hamas’s incessant rocket fire on Israeli civilians and its rejection of Israel’s very existence.
At a meeting Monday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met earlier in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Netanyahu leveled some veiled and not-so-veiled criticism at UN actions in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in July and August.
“[Hamas’s] rocket attacks often exploited UN neutrality, using UN facilities and UN schools as part of the Hamas machine of terror,” the prime minister said.
“And when rockets were discovered inside UN schools, some UN officials handed them back to Hamas – that very same Hamas that was rocketing Israeli cities and Israeli civilians,” Netanyahu stressed.
He also seemed to dismiss Ban’s earlier calls for the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government.
Ban had called for the two sides to revive a stagnant peace process that collapsed in April despite intense US efforts.
“We need to act immediately to prevent a deepening of an already unsustainable status quo… this is the only way to avoid yet another tragic conflict in the future,” Ban said.
But Netanyahu said that “Hamas is the enemy of all of us who seek peace. And a real peace can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations with those who believe in peace.”
Regarding Ban’s comments expressing concerns about “repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem” after riots Monday morning at the Temple Mount, Netanyahu blamed “Palestinian extremists who are instigating violence through incitement.”
“I’m committed, and Israel is committed, to maintaining the status quo exactly as it’s been for many decades. Israel scrupulously maintains the protection of the holy sites, the right of all religions to worship in their holy places, and will continue to do so, maintaining order, maintaining freedom of worship,” he said.
The Temple Mount is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and is a major focus of Israeli-Palestinian tension, which has heightened in Jerusalem since the Gaza conflict.
As to Abbas’s plan to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a time frame for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, Netanyahu said unilateral moves would not serve to advance peace.
“They’ll bring about a further deterioration in the situation – something none of us want,” he said.
At the same meeting, Ban seemed to share Netanyahu’s sentiment.
“The two-state solution is the only way to bring peace to both sides. Unilateral action is no foundation for the future, ” he said.
The UN chief reiterated the international community call for the renewal of peace talks.
“After a summer of immense suffering and destruction, I am back to strongly urge leaders and member states to find the way to peace and contribute to the pressing issue of Gaza’s reconstruction,” he said.
“The conflict left unprecedented levels of damage and pain for thousands of civilians living in the Gaza Strip.”
The UN chief welcomed Israeli steps to ease restrictions on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and thanked Netanyahu for his support for a UN-brokered mechanism for the reconstruction of Gaza.
Ban warned against reverting to the status quo ante and said real economic changes in Gaza, “which requires the predictable exit and entry of goods and people,” would help break the cycle of violence.