Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have softened his tone from hard-line statements made during his re-election campaign about the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In a TV interview on Thursday – just two day after he won re-election – Netanyahu said that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood, if conditions in the region improve, and to the two-state vision first spelled out in a landmark 2009 speech.
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“I haven’t changed my policy,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. “I never retracted my speech.”
“I don’t want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change,” Netanyahu said. “And every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.”
In the closing days of his campaign, Netanyahu said there could be no Palestinian state while regional violence and chaos persist, conditions that could rule out progress on the issue for many years. The comments angered the United States administration, which views a two-state solution as a top foreign policy priority.
In the interview, Netanyahu also pointed to the presence of hostile armed groups across the region and said that any captured territory handed over to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be taken over by the fighters.
“You can’t impose peace. And in any case, if you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for an achievable peace,” Netanyahu said.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas seized control of the coastal territory, ousting forces loyal to Abbas.
Earlier in the day, Abbas expressed his concern over Netanyahu’s election comments.
“What we heard from Netanyahu was very worrisome,” said the Palestinian president. “We have the full right to approach any international party in order to gain our rights and so international legitimacy will be achieved.”
Also on Thursday, US President Barack Obama re-stated US support for Palestinian statehood during a congratulatory phone call to Netanyahu on his victory in the election. The White House said in a statement that the two leaders agreed to continue consulting on issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Thursday that Netanyahu’s comments on Palestine during the election campaign were a “cynical ploy” to gain voter support, Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman reported from Washington.
Our correspondent said the US has continuously backed Israel at the UN Security Council because of a common agreement on the two state-solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Relations between Netanyahu and Obama administration are at a low point after Netanyahu addressed Congress earlier this month on negotiations with Iran. The address was arranged with Republicans behind the White House’s back, breaching regular diplomatic protocol.