WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama praised Egypt's proposal Monday for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, telling Muslim-Americans that he's hopeful that the plan can restore calm in the wake of a deadly wave of violence.
"We're going to continue to do everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire," Obama said at a White House dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish that goal."
The upbeat assessment from Obama came hours after Egypt presented a plan to end a week of heavy fighting that has killed at least 185 people. Both Israel and the Palestinians say they are seriously considering the proposal, which marks the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict.
At the same time, Obama said the U.S. has been "very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself" against an onslaught of rockets being launched indiscriminately by Hamas militants into Israel. He also lamented the death and injury of Palestinian civilians in Gaza during Israel's military response to quell the rockets, urging that civilians be protected and warning against further escalation by either side.
Infusing Obama's words with a heightened sense of seriousness was his audience in the State Dining Room: Dozens of Muslim-Americans and diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries who gathered for the White House's annual iftar, or Ramadan evening meal. The first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, were also on the guest list.
"More broadly, the situation in Gaza reminds us, again, that the status quo is unsustainable," Obama said. "The only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
Ahead of the dinner, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called for a boycott of all government-hosted iftar dinners, objecting to U.S. support for Israel during the conflict and alleged government spying on Muslim-Americans. Ellison said he shared the group's concerns but disagreed with the boycott and said it was important for passionate members of the Muslim community to attend.