The US will “reassess” aspects of its relationship with Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative statements leading up to Israeli elections, President Barack Obama told the Israeli prime minister during a phone call.
The phone call on Thursday was officially described as a message of congratulations on Netanyahu’s victory, but it also carried a serious warning after the prime minister — during the last days of his campaign — opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, CNN reported.
“The president told the prime minister that we would need to reassess our options following the prime minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two state solution,” a White House official said.
According to an official statement put out after the call, the president also emphasised during their conversation the US’s “long-standing commitment to a two-state solution”.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu walked back his disavowal of a two-state solution, a position he endorsed in an effort to appeal to right wing voters with polls showing him facing tough competition.
US officials had already said that they have been waiting to see if Netanyahu would stand behind the campaign comments nixing a Palestinian state as he moves toward forming a governing coalition.
It took two days for Netanyahu’s about-face.
“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Netanyahu said Thursday in an interview with NBC. “I haven’t changed my policy.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, speaking before the call, had stopped short of saying that the US reassessment would include offering support for a UN resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The resolution is opposed by Jerusalem, but US officials have floated it as a possibility in the wake of Netanyahu’s remarks.
Asked by Israeli news site NRG on Monday if he was ruling out the formation of a Palestinian state while he is prime minister, Netanyahu responded, “Indeed.” He also blasted the idea of such a state given the security challenges facing Israel.
Netanyahu also walked back on another controversial campaign remark, in which he urged his supporters to go out to counteract the effect of Arab voters who he said were rushing to the polls “in droves”.
Earnest on Thursday said those comments “erode at the values that are critical to the bond between our two countries”.
“I wasn’t trying to suppress the vote… I was calling on our voters to come out,” Netanyahu said. “I’m very proud to be the prime minister of Israel.”
Netanyahu went on to say that he drew support from “quite a few Arab voters” and spoke of “free and fair elections” in Israel that were not common place in the rest of the Middle East.
Netanyahu also shrugged off the criticism of the Obama administration.
The Israeli prime minister pointed to the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel and downplayed strains in his personal relationship with Obama.
“America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the US,” Netanyahu said. “We’ll work together. We have to.”