In a fresh rebuke to Benjamin Netanyahu, United States President Barack Obama said the Israeli leader’s pre-election disavowal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it “hard to find a path” toward serious negotiations to resolve the issue.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama also scolded Netanyahu over his remarks about Arab Israelis voting, making clear that the deep rift in relations between Israel and the US – its most important ally – is not ending anytime soon.
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In the interview, conducted on Friday and published on Saturday, Obama described his Thursday phone call with Netanyahu, two days after the Israeli leader was re-elected.
“I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic,” Obama said, in his first public comments on the issue.
“And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”
‘Taken at his word’
The worst crisis in decades in US-Israeli relations was worsened by Netanyahu’s declaration just before Tuesday’s election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Netanyahu appeared to backtrack from the remarks in US interviews on Thursday.
“Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” said Obama, whose administration sponsored failed talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state that would exist peacefully side-by-side with Israel.
In the interview, Obama also expressed dismay over Netanyahu’s election day warning to his supporters about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls “in droves”.
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” Obama said.
Obama underscored his support for Israel’s security, saying he would make sure that military and intelligence cooperation continues in order to keep the Israeli people safe.
“But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region,” Obama said, referring to the current state of affairs with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s tense relations with Obama have been strained over US efforts to reach an international agreement with Iran to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Ties worsened when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to the US Congress two weeks before the Israeli election to criticise Obama’s quest for such a deal. Democrats assailed the speech as an insult to the presidency and a breach of protocol.