Despite Obama's Demand, Netanyahu's Coalition Guidelines Make No Commitment to Palestinian State

Neither of Netanyahu's previous two governments made commitment to two states either, but Israel's international standing and the demands of the U.S. and Europe have changed the playing field.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured together in 2010. Reuters

A document detailing the basic guidelines of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition, presented Wednesday to the Knesset, bears no mention of the solution of "two states for two peoples" nor does it include any intention of establishing a Palestinian state.

The document includes a general statement alone according to which, "the government will advance the diplomatic process and will strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all of our neighbors."

The document also mentions that the government will push for a diplomatic peace process while preserving Israel's security and national historical interests. "If an agreement of this kind is reached, it will be brought for the approval of the cabinet and the Knesset, and if necessary, for a national referendum as well," the document on the coalition guidelines says.

The wording of the political clause in the document is similar to the wording used in Netanyahu's previous government in 2009 and 2013. Neither of those two government expressed commitment to a two-state solution either – mainly due to the opposition of many members of Likud and its coalition partners on the right.

Rather than noting the issue of Palestinian statehood in the coalition guidelines, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has clung over the last few years to his Bar Ilan address in 2009, when he accepted the principle of "two states for two peoples" and expressed support for the establishment of "a demilitarized" Palestinian state which recognizes Israel.

Although there is no apparent change in the wording of the diplomatic clause as they have appeared in Netanyahu's past government lines, there is a difference: Israel's international standing and the fact that since its last election period, the U.S. and the European Union states have demanded that Netanyahu prove – both in policy and in action – that his government is committed to the two-state solution.

U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated these remarks in an interview with the London-based Arab daily A-Sharq al-Awsat on Wednesday morning.

"We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate - through policies and actions - a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Only then can trust be rebuilt and a cycle of escalation avoided," Obama said. 

The Obama administration's demand came on the backdrop of Netanyahu's pre-election remarks backing away from the two-state solution, when the prime minister told the NRG news website that his Bar Ilan speech was no longer relevant due to the security situation in the region. Netanyahu added that a Palestinian state would not be established as long he is prime minister. Netanyahu's statements were an effort to garner votes.

Netanyahu backtracked on the comments just a few days after the election, however, saying that he was still committed to the two-state solution and his Bar Ilan speech.

"I don’t want a one-state solution," Netanyahu told NBC on March 19. "I want a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution, but circumstances have to change for that to happen."

The White House would not accept Netanyahu's clarifications.

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the J Street conference in Washington in March.

“Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he said. “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”

Shortly after, Obama then told reporters that there is "real policy difference" between himself and Netanyahu when it comes to the need to establish a Palestinian state. This dispute, Obama added, will have ramifications for U.S. policy regarding the Middle East peace process.

Last month, U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned that if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the U.S. will have a difficult time continuing to assist its efforts to halt international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations.

"We will be watching very closely to see what happens on this [Palestinian] issue after the new government is formed," Sherman said. "If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher... it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict."