Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that he is committed to the vision of two states for two peoples. The remarks were made at the outset of their meeting in Jerusalem.
This is the first time that Netanyahu has publicly declared a commitment to the two-state solution since his new government was established last week.
"I want to reiterate my commitment to peace. We want a peace that would end the conflict once and for all. My position hasn’t changed. I don’t support a one-state solution. I don’t believe this is a solution at all. I support the vision of two states for two peoples – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
The prime minister added that Israel has taken several steps in recent months to ease daily life for Palestinians and that it intends to make further steps.
The wording that Netanyahu used in his statement was a quote from his 2009 speech in Bar-Ilan University, in which he first voiced support for the two-state solution. Netanyahu made Wednesday's statements despite the fact that the basic guidelines of his new coalition do not include any intention of establishing a Palestinian state.
The guidelines, presented to the Knesset earlier this month, included 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.
Netanyahu made Wednesday's statement against the background of U.S. and EU pressure to clarify that he is committed to the two-state solution. The Obama administration and the European states' pressure was the result of an interview Netanyahu gave to the Israeli news website NRG on the eve of the Israeli elections in which he disavowed his Bar Ilan speech. Netanyahu said in the interview that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch. By these statements, Netanyahu was eyeing settlers and right wingers, hoping to win their votes for his party, Likud.
But several days after the elections, Netanyahu retracted his statement again, claiming he is still committed to the two-state solution and the Bar Ilan speech. In an NBC interview, Netanyahu said: "I want a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution, but circumstances have to change for that to happen."
The White House did not accept Netanyahu's clarifications. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the J Street conference in Washington at the time that "We cannot simply pretend that those comments [by Netanyahu against a Palestinian state, B.R.] were never made.” McDonough added that "Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”
A few days later President Obama told 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.
Two weeks ago 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.
Sherman noted the American administration intends to watch very closely Israel's policy on the Palestinian issue after the new government is formed.
"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," she said.