When this week got underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently thought he was going to lose his re-election bid. This fear led the Israeli leader to adopt some desperate measures.
“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said Monday. “This is the true reality that has been created in past years,” he added, vowing to increase settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
Asked if that meant Netanyahu intended to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state if he remained prime minister, he replied, “Indeed.”
This was no small exchange. Netanyahu had previously committed to a two-state solution, and this seemed like a wholesale reversal. Just as important, the prime minister appeared to also be abandoning a bipartisan U.S. position. In fact, Obama administration officials have invested considerable energy in recent years telling officials throughout the Middle East that Israel is serious about a two-state solution, which led the White House to see Monday’s comments as a betrayal.
Today, in his first American interview since his victory, Netanyahu adopted a very different posture with msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell.
“The premises in your question are wrong. I haven’t changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. […]“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.”
This is quite a nuanced walk-back. As Zack Beauchamp explained, Netanyahu is effectively arguing “that he wasn’t abandoning in-principle support for a Palestinian state – he just doesn’t think the Palestinians are interested and capable of setting up a peaceful one anytime soon.”
Whether anyone, anywhere finds this persuasive remains to be seen.
That’s especially true of White House officials, who, as Peter Beinart reported, believe Netanyahu may have fundamentally changed the nature of the U.S./Israeli relationship.
On Wednesday, I asked a senior Obama administration official whether there was anything Benjamin Netanyahu could do to repair the damage done by his comments late in his reelection campaign. The official’s answer: “You can’t unring the bell.” Other officials, off the record, put it far, far more harshly than that. […]It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.”
Andrea Mitchell’s interview with Netanyahu is below. It’s well worth your time.