U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday warned Jewish leaders 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.
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Sherman told a conference of the Reform Movement that the U.S. has always supported Israel and given its diplomatic backing in the international arena, even when it meant standing alone against the rest of the world.
"We have always had Israel's back in the international arena, even when it meant standing alone," Sherman said. "This will continue to be the case."
Nevertheless, she said, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's actions during the election period "raised questions about his commitment to the two-state solution."
"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.
Sherman's comments come amid France's efforts to advance a new initiative to reach a Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. According to the French initiative, a Security Council decision would include principles for a solution to the conflict, such as the delineation of borders for a future Palestinian state, according to 1967 lines and with land exchange. Sherman's remarks were essentially a veiled threat indicating that the U.S. will consider not imposing a veto on a resolution of the kind.
In the days leading up to the election, Netanyahu held an interview with the NRG website, which is affiliated with the right-wing, in which he said that if he were chosen prime minister, a Palestinian state would not be created. A few days before that, Netanyahu said that the Bar-Ilan speech, in which he had declared his intentions for establishing a Palestinian state, was no longer relevant in light of the security reality in the region.
A day after the election results were finalized, Netanyahu tried to fix the damage done with his words. In an interview with NBC, he said that he had not meant to retract his Bar-Ilan speech and that he supported the two-state solution, but that "circumstances" had to change.
"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."
The White House did not accept Netanyahu's clarification. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in a speech at the J Street conference in Washington: “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made.” The leftist audience received his remarks enthusiastically. He also said: “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he said. “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”
A few days later, President Barack Obama told reporters at a press conference 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.