President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call Thursday that the U.S. is prepared to help facilitate a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2014. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
The conversation came as Israel is fending off rocket attacks from Hamas terrorists. The administration has not spoken about the matter very often as violence has again escalated between Israelis and Palestinians.
The president noted that the U.S. is willing to help restore calm, possibly by moving toward a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.
The White House said, however, that Obama reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks, but also urged both sides not to escalate the conflict.
The two leaders also talked about the kidnapping and murder of teenagers Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel, who was an American and Israeli citizen. Obama said he wants the killers brought to justice and expressed condolences to the people of Israel.
Obama also credited Netanyahu's government for the arrest of suspects in the abduction and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, according to the White House.
The two leaders are believed to have a chilly relationship in private, though publicly, Obama has expressed the U.S. has unyeilding commitment to Israel. Obama called in 2011 for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, which was politically a nonstarter. More recently, Netanyahu has been critical of the Obama administration's willingness to negotiate with Iran.
During the Thursday talk, they went on to talk about the P5+1 negotiations over Iran's nuclear materials. Obama told the prime minister the United States won't accept an agreement that doesn't ensure Iran's nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, according to the read out of the call.