Thursday morning President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on re-election, the White House announced in a press release. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party won a plurality of seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, two days ago.
There is some concern from the White House about how in the final week of the Israeli elections that Netanyahu took a very hard right-wing stance. His declaration that there would be no Palestinian state while he remains in office prompted the White House to call his remarks “deeply concerning” — though Netanyahu himself has already walked back from that pronouncement.
“The president emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” the White House said in a statement.
President Obama also re-affirmed his support for a Palestinian state and talks with Iran on an agreement that would prevent it from obtaining the means to make a nuclear weapons, items that have generated considerable friction in recent days and weeks.
Before he spoke to President Obama, Netanyahu appeared on a number radio and television programs attempting to soften his hard line stance on the possibility of a new Palestinian state. Something earlier in the week that he said would never happen if he returned to office. Netanyahu changed his position during the interviews Thursday saying that he would support a Palestinian state, “if conditions are right.”
During his regular Thursday press briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest, however, said Netanyahu’s campaign comments raise questions about his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, he said, “the United States is in a position to re-evaluate our thinking about this and a wide range of other issues.”
Earnest suggested the United States might not automatically support Israel at the United Nations, as it has done in the past, though he stressed that no policy decisions have been made at this point.
In its statement on the Netanyahu phone call, the White House said Obama “reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine.”
In an interview with MSNBC host Andrea Mitchel broadcast Thursday, Netanyahu seemed to alter his campaign rhetoric by saying he doesn’t want a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change,” he said, later adding: “We need a demilitarized state that recognizes a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu’s party and other conservative parties won enough parliamentary seats in Tuesday’s elections to enable him to form a government.
During the campaign, Netanyahu criticized reported details of a potential nuclear deal involving the United States and Iran, saying the proposal would still enable Tehran to produce a weapon. Netanyahu even took his complaints to a joint session of Congress with a speech that angered Obama and his aides.
During Thursday’s call, Obama repeated that the United States “is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” the White House said.
In recent days, the White House has also criticized Netanyahu for what it called “divisive” rhetoric in the final hours of the Israeli elections, include the prime minister’s comments that his opponents were helping Arabs vote.
Earnest called it “a pretty transparent attempt to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens and their right to participate in the election.”
During his interview with Mitchell, Netanyahu also rejected accusations he tried to suppress the Arab vote, saying that “I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.”
The White House statement on the phone call said nothing about Netanyahu’s campaign tactics.
In the United States, some Republicans had criticized Obama for not contacting Netanyahu sooner. White House officials had said that Obama wanted to wait until the Israeli leader formed his new government, but he apparently changed his mind and made the call Thursday.