US president and Israeli premier have met to discuss strained ties, with Barack Obama calling for an end to Palestinian civilian deaths and Benjamin Netanyahu warning against leaving Iran with nuclear capabilities.
Obama and Netanyahu privately convened on Wednesday in the Oval Office, the two leaders’ first meeting since Israel’s summer assault on beleaguered Gaza.
The 50-day war with Hamas killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and more than 70 Israelis of mostly soldiers.
The civilian deaths in Gaza deeply angered US officials, prompting more biting public condemnations of Israel’s actions than are typical from the Obama administration.
Talking to reporters before the meeting commenced, Obama said leaders must “find ways to change the status quo so that both Israel citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools, from the possibility of rocket fire but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.”
Netanyahu reiterated his scepticism about the diplomatic process and his fear that Iran will be allowed to keep aspects of its nuclear programme.
“Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you worked so hard to put in place and leave it as a threshold nuclear power,” Netanyahu told Obama. “And I firmly hope under your leadership that would not happen.”
Israel and the US contend that Iran is seeking to build a bomb. The Islamic republic insists the programme is for peaceful purposes.
End Israeli occupation
Meanwhile, Palestinians are asking the UN Security Council to set November 2016 as the deadline for ending the Israeli occupation, according to a draft resolution obtained by AFP on Wednesday.
The draft, circulated to council members, follows Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’ address last week to the UN General Assembly in which he called for a fast-track to statehood.
The text, put forward by the Arab group, calls for “the full withdrawal of Israel, the occupying power, from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as rapidly as possible and to be fully completed within a specified timeframe, not to exceed November 2016.”
It calls for the world body to respect “the independence and sovereignty of the state of Palestine and the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
UN diplomats said the draft resolution stood little chance of being adopted, but the move presents the Security Council with a challenge on how to advance the Middle East peace track if the Palestinian demand is rejected.
European countries and the US have steadfastly maintained that the best path to Palestinian statehood is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and not by imposing a deadline.
Abbas told reporters in Ramallah late Tuesday that the Palestinians risk losing $700 million in annual US aid over the push for a UN Security Council resolution.
“The Palestinian leadership is coming under heavy pressure not to go to the Security Council or join international organisations, and the main pressure relates to aid,” he said.
“Relations with the US administration are strained… and it is not in our interest to worsen it. But at the same time, we cannot go back on our decision.”
Palestinian diplomats said they were aware of US opposition to setting a deadline, but that they hoped to tap into support from the broader international community.