Netanyahu backtracks on two-state election pledge

la-oe-0227-edelstein-israel-iran-netanyahu-spe-001In conciliatory moves, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday backtracked from a pre-election vow to oppose an independent Palestinian state and reached out to repair damaged relations with President Obama. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change,” Netanyahu said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports in his first interview since his Likud Party won Tuesday’s election.

Netanyahu also extended an olive branch to Obama, who called later Thursday to congratulate the prime minister on his victory.

The two leaders have been feuding openly over Netanyahu’s earlier hard-line stance against a Palestinian state, as well as any potential U.S. deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Netanyahu pledged Thursday to work with the president. “America has no greater ally than Israel, and Israel has no greater ally than the United States,” he said.

White House spokesman Jose Earnest said Obama reiterated his support for a Palestinian state and talks with Iran on an agreement that would prevent it from obtaining the means to make a nuclear weapons. Before the phone call, Earnest said the Obama administration will re-evaluate its approach on Palestinian statehood and suggested the U.S. might not automatically support Israel at the United Nations, as it has in the past. But he added that the president and his aides have not made any final decisions on a new approach or whether there will even be one. “I’m not suggesting that any policy decision has been made at this point,” Earnest said.

Netanyahu had announced his opposition to a Palestinian state on Monday, saying he would work to prevent one from being established. He reiterated that pledge early Tuesday after casting his ballot in Israel’s parliamentary elections. Pundits attributed the hard-line about-face as an attempt by Netanyahu — whose party was behind in the polls — to convince far right-wing voters of his nationalist credentials.”I haven’t changed my policy,” Netanyahu said Thursday, referring to a speech he made in 2009 where he called for a Palestinian state. “What has changed is the reality.”

Netanyahu said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to recognize a Jewish state and has formed a unity government with the militant Hamas, a group that calls for the destruction of Israel. “I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,” Netanyahu said, referring to his earlier comments that he didn’t support a Palestinian state. “To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace. We are. It’s time that we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed, too.” After Tuesday’s vote, Netanyahu’s Likud Party came out on top with 30 seats in the new Knesset, or parliament — six seats more than the opposition Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu still needs to form a coalition government with at least 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset to start his fourth term as prime minister.

This article originally appeared in USA Today newspaper.

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Meanwhile, in London, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (right) has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reneging support for a two-state solution, saying that if the Israeli leader does not backtrack from those remarks, Britain would have no choice but to recognize a Palestinian state.

Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called Netanyahu’s vow not to create a Palestinian state “alarming,” the Guardian reported Thursday. Netanyahu, while campaigning Monday, said that if he were to be reelected, a Palestinian state would not be created, in a definite disavowal of his 2009 speech, in which he had voiced support for the principle of two states for two peoples. Netanyahu has since been criticized for those remarks, and also for warning that Arabs were heading to the voting booths “in droves,” by U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

Clegg said he shared Obama’s view, during his weekly radio show. “It is extremely worrying – it cannot be more alarming – to have seen [Benjamin] Netanyahu do something which no leading Israeli politician has ever done; to rule out the prospect of a two-state solution.” He added that if Netanyahu continued to rule out a Palestinian state and expanded West Bank settlements, “the world, including the British parliament, would have no option, inevitably, but to recognize a Palestinian state.” Clegg said a formal move to recognize Palestine would result from “extreme provocation from Netanyahu.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, congratulated Netanyahu on his reelection, tweeting “PM: Congratulations to @netanyahu on election result. As one of #Israel’s firmest friends, UK looks forward to working with new government.”Last October, the British parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution to recognize the state of Palestine alongside Israel.

This article, with input from The Guardian, originally appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz

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