U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview with Huffington Post on Saturday that he is convinced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
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"We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn't happen during his prime ministership," the president said, referring to the prime minister's comments a few days before Israel's election on Tuesday, that a Palestinian state wouldn't be established on his watch.
Obama's comments in the interview suggest that he was not convinced by the recent days' clarifications proffered by Netanyahu in both interviews to American media and in a telephone conversation with the U.S. president on last Thursday.
In these interviews, Netanyahu said that he wanted a stable and sustainable two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, but existing circumstances make that difficult. He never retracted his commitment from the Bar-Ilan speech, he said, adding that it is the realities that had changed.
Obama said that in light of Netanyahu's stance, his administration would need to "evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don't see a chaotic situation in the region."
During the interview, Obama expressed his commitment to continuing to work fully with the Israeli government in regards to military and intelligence-related cooperation, but declined to say whether the U.S. would continue to block the Palestinians' unilateral moves in the UN. Obama said that during his conversation with Netanyahu, he told him that due to his statement against a Palestinian state, "It is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible."
The U.S., Obama said, would continue to insist on its view that the Israeli-Palestinian status quo is unacceptable. "While taking into complete account Israel's security, we can't just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That's not a recipe for stability in the region."
Obama also commented on Netanyahu's last-minute Election Day "warning" regarding a rise in voting rates among Israel's Arab public.
"We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel's tradition," Obama said. "That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly... And I think that that is what's best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don't believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the name of democracy in the country."
Last-minute efforts linger
The criticism directed in recent days at Netanyahu from the Obama administration follows Netanyahu’s controversial last-minute election campaign efforts, widely seen as effort to boost turnout in his favor from the hard right electorate.
During the course of Election Day, Netanyahu made a series of statements and Facebook posts including a “warning” that Israeli Arabs were voting in higher numbers - coming to the polls “in droves,” as he put it. Netanyahu called on supporters of his Likud party to get out and vote. On Election Day, the Likud campaign headquarters also conveyed the statement as a text message to the cell phones of millions of potential voters.
And a few days before Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu gave an interview in Hebrew to the NRG news website, which is considered right-wing, and said that if he is re-elected, there would be no Palestinian state established. Several days before that, he had said that his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, where he had committed to Palestinian state, was no longer relevant due to the security realities in the region.
The U.S. administration’s response to Netanyahu’s reelection was cool, with Obama waiting several days before calling Netanyahu to congratulate him, as is customary.
Obama told Netanyahu on Thursday afternoon that the United States would 'reassess' its relationship with Israel after the newly reelected leader shifted his position on a two-state solution, and in view of Netanyahu’s opposition to the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.
A White House official told Reuters that the U.S. president told Netanyahu “that we will need to reassess our options following the prime minister's new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.”
However, Obama's spokesman clarified that the U.S.’s “security cooperation” with Israel was not under consideration.