Netanyahu’s Palestine climbdown fails to impress Washington

Israeli prime minister says conditions to achieve two-state solution do not exist

Binyamin Netanyahu has backtracked from an election promise that there would be no Palestinian state if he was re-elected Israeli prime minister.

Only two days after winning a fourth term as prime minister with a decisive election victory, Mr Netanyahu said he had not reneged on a 2009 speech delivered at Bar Ilan university in which he agreed to a two-state solution, but that the conditions needed to achieve it did not exist today since Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas consistently opposed recognising Israel as the Jewish state and had made an alliance with Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction.

“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change,” he told MSNBC in an interview.

Shortly afterwards US president Barack Obama telephoned Mr Netanyahu and congratulated him on his election victory but also told him Washington is reassessing its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of his campaign statements.


The White House described its commitment to Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in peace as a "bedrock" principle of US Middle East policy.

Cynical tactics

White House press secretary

Josh Earnest

called Mr Netanyahu’s actions “cynical, divisive election-day tactics” that are unworthy of the values that the US and Israel share.

Mr Netanyahu’s actions had “eroded” that foundation and will mean that the US “needs to rethink our approach,” he said. “And that’s what we will do.”

The White House noted that Washington had defended Israel in the United Nations and vetoed anti-Israel motions until now, but that a reassessment was taking place.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said it was impossible to force an arrangement on Israel that would “endanger the security of its citizens”. They said that instead of searching for excuses to place pressure on Israel, the international community should pressure Mr Abbas who had left the negotiation table and was acting against Israel in the international criminal court at The Hague.

Mr Abbas said Mr Netanyahu’s statements during the election campaign proves there can be no peace as long as he is prime minister.

Serious intentions

“If these things are true, it means that the Israeli government has no serious intentions to reach a peace agreement that will create two states based on the 1967 borders,” he said. “We therefore will not retreat from our position to apply international law, and so it is our right to go anywhere in the world to realise our rights according to international law.”

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians are working on plans to halt security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank. He refused to say when this will happen.

Bilateral relations could deteriorate further after it was announced that Mr Obama's rival, Republican House speaker John Boehner, the man who invited Mr Netanyahu to make his controversial speech to Congress on Iran, will visit Israel this month.

Israel is bracing for the possibility of a major shift in US policy that could mean Washington, together with the European Union, endorsing a United Nations security council motion in favour of a two-state solution.

Dennis Ross, formerly an adviser to Mr Obama, said the position of the US administration would be affected by the composition of the new Israeli government and its basic guidelines relating to the peace process. He pointed to Israel's growing international delegitimisation and called on Mr Netanyahu to present an initiative that made it clear what steps he was willing to take.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem