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Netanyahu apologizes for controversial comments about Arab voters

The Israeli prime minister on Monday walked back his pre-election warning about Arab Israelis voting "in droves," which some critics perceived as racist.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem March 8, 2015. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem March 8, 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized Monday for comments he made in the final hours of last week's election, in which he warned of a left-wing conspiracy to bus in Arab Israeli voters, who he said were voting "in droves." Some critics called the remarks outrageous, and even racist.

"I know what I said a few days ago damaged Israel's Arabs," Netanyahu told Arab Israeli supporters of the right-wing Likud party in a video clip posted to his Facebook page and translated by NBC News. "I had no intention of it. I'm sorry for that."

The prime minister's apology is his latest attempt to walk back controversial comments made in the run-up to the Israeli election, which were widely seen as a tactical maneuver to rally conservative support. In his first interview since voters handed Likud a major victory over the center-left Zionist Union party, Netanyahu told msnbc's Andrea Mitchell that he still supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a position he seemed to renounce just days before the election.

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On Friday, President Obama told The Huffington Post that his administration has "taken [Netanyahu] at his word" that the prime minister has abandoned the goal of an independent Palestinian state, the linchpin of decades of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The Israeli ambassador to the United States doubled down on Netanyahu’s post-election position, however, telling “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the White House was “misinterpreting” the prime minister.

The war of words continued on Monday at J Street's annual conference in Washington, where National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told the liberal American-Jewish advocacy group that Israel's 50-year "occupation" must end, and reiterated the White House position that Netanyahu's pre-election renunciation of a two-state solution could not be ignored.  

RELATED: Obama holds Netanyahu to pre-election promise

Netanyahu appears to be racing to undo the diplomatic damage.

"I see myself as a Prime Minister of each and every one of you, of all citizens of Israel, without any distinction of religion, race and gender," Netanyahu said Monday, in response to criticism of his pre-election warning that Arab Israelis votes would put "the rule of the right" in danger. "I see all citizens of Israel share Israel's deliverance, prosperous and safe, for the benefit of all citizens of Israel. Thank you all."