Just one day after the final election results gave a clear victory to his Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday began reneging on – and attempting to repair the damage to his image caused by – a number of controversial and even racist comments he made during the last days of the election campaign, as he attempted to mobilize right-wing voters.
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After two weeks in which he gave dozens of interviews to the Israeli media in Hebrew, several of which included the controversial remarks, Netanyahu chose to backtrack in the foreign media and in English.
In an interview with the American NBC television channel on Thursday evening, Netanyahu reiterated his belief in a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
"I don’t want a one-state solution," Netanyahu told NBC. "I want a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution, but circumstances have to change for that to happen." He added that he had "never retracted my speech in Bar Ilan [University] six years ago. What has changed is the reality."
He stressed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "refused to recognize the Jewish state and every territory that is vacated is captured by radical Islamic terror organizations." The Palestinian leadership would need to disavow its partnership with Hamas if it was interested in attaining peace, Netanyahu said.
Before the NBC interview, Abbas told a meeting of the PLO Central Committee in Ramallah that "Netanyahu's statements in opposition to a Palestinian state, if they are true, are additional proof that the Israeli government has no intention of reaching a diplomatic solution based on two states and the '67 lines."
Netanyahu stated to NBC that he was opposed to the recognition of a Palestinian state at this stage, because "it would become a terrorist state," and stressed that he expected the United States to oppose all Palestinian unilateral steps.
"The U.S. has said time and time again that we need a negotiated solution – you can't impose peace," Netanyahu said. "It's time there is pressure on the Palestinians to show they are committed to peace."
Days before the election, Netanyahu said in an interview with the right-aligned NRG website that no Palestinian state would be established if he was reelected prime minister.
A few days earlier, Netanyahu said that his speech at Bar Ilan in 2009, during which he announced his readiness to accept a Palestinian state, was no longer relevant due to the security situation in the region.
In his interview with NBC, the prime minister also attempted to repudiate his demonization of Israeli Arabs during the last days of the election campaign, which was designed to mobilize the right-wing vote.
On Election Day, Netanyahu made a number of statements and published posts on Facebook in which he "warned" against the mass turnout of Arab citizens, who, he said, "are going to the polls in hordes," and called on Likud supporters to vote. The Likud campaign sent billions of SMS messages to Likud supporters with the same message.
"I am not racist," Netanyahu told NBC. "I am proud to be the prime minister of all Israelis – Arabs and Jews alike." He explained that his statements were not intended to prevent Arab citizens from voting, but rather to "call on our voters to come out."
He accused foreign NGOs of "streaming millions of dollars" from abroad in an attempt to "get votes for a certain party of Islamists and anti-Israel groups."
His own Likud party has Arab voters, Netanyahu said, and as prime minister he had allocated billions of shekels to the Arab sector. He added that he would continue to act to ensure the inclusion of Arab citizens in Israeli society.
The White House criticized Netanyahu's statements against the Arabs of Israel on Wednesday. Spokesman Josh Earnest said that the Obama administration was "very concerned about the use of divisive rhetoric that excludes the Arab minority in Israel."
He added that "such statements undermine the democratic values that are both important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the U.S. with Israel."