16 January 2019
Benjamin Netanyahu is backing away from remarks he made during his election campaign. Photo: Reuters
Benjamin Netanyahu is backing away from remarks he made during his election campaign. Photo: Reuters

Netanyahu backtracks on Palestinian state, US unimpressed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied abandoning his commitment to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, Reuters reported.

“I haven’t changed my policy,” Netanyahu told MSNBC in his first US television interview since winning the bitterly contested Israeli election.

“I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu said, “What has changed is the reality”, citing the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and the Hamas militant group’s continued control of the Gaza Strip.

But the United States was unimpressed by Netanyahu’s attempt to back away from pre-election comments that deepened a rift with Israel’s chief ally.

The US delivered a fresh rebuke of the Israeli leader and signaled it may reconsider its decades-old policy of shielding Israel from international pressure at the United Nations.

The White House warned there would be “consequences” for Israel as the US government “re-evaluates” its Middle East diplomatic strategy and monitors the formation of Netanyahu’s new ruling coalition.

“He walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two-state solution,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

“It is … cause for the United States to evaluate what our path is forward.”

The harsh US response signaled that US-Israeli relations, already at their lowest point since Obama took office, could deteriorate even further as an end-of-March deadline looms in US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran that Netanyahu bitterly opposes.

Among the most serious risks for Israel would be a shift in Washington’s posture at the United Nations.

The United States has long stood in the way of Palestinian efforts to get a UN resolution recognizing its statehood, including threatening to use its veto, and has protected Israel from efforts to isolate it internationally.

“Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome,” Earnest said.

“Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution.”

Netanyahu touched off the diplomatic storm with his comments on the eve of Tuesday’s election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, widely seen as intended to mobilize his right-wing base when his electoral hopes were flagging.

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