Netanyahu Clarifies His Stance On Two States

It was widely reported that, during the last days of the Israeli election campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu told his supporters that there would never be a Palestinian state as long as he was in office. This provoked howls of outrage, including a threat by the Obama administration to join with anti-Israel forces in the United Nations to press for recognition of a Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders:

[W]ith Mr. Netanyahu’s last-minute turnaround against a Palestinian state alongside Israel, several administration officials said that the Obama administration may now agree to passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution embodying principles of a two-state solution that would be based on the pre-1967 lines between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip and mutually agreed swaps. …

“The premise of our position internationally has been to support direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” a senior White House official said. “We are now in a reality where the Israeli government no longer supports direct negotiations. Therefore we clearly have to factor that into our decisions going forward.”

That reaction was hasty, to say the least. Earlier today, Netanyahu explained that he has not, in fact, repudiated his preference for a two-state solution:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Thursday walked back his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch….

Mr. Netanyahu said in an interview on MSNBC that he still wanted “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he had not intended to reverse the position he took endorsing that in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University. But he said the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and its pact with the militant Islamist Hamas movement, made that impossible right now.

“I haven’t changed my policy,” Mr. Netanyahu said in the interview, his first since his resounding victory on Tuesday, which handed him a fourth term. “What has changed is the reality.”

“I don’t want a one-state solution; I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change,” he added. “I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. We have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.”

Did Netanyahu really “walk back” what he said during the campaign? Seemingly not; this was the exchange in question:

Those suspicions seemed confirmed on Tuesday when Mr. Netanyahu answered “correct” after being asked directly in a video interview with a right-leaning Israeli news site, “If you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?”

“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu told the news site, NRG. “Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand.”

Emphasis added. To say that a Palestinian state cannot safely be established today, or in the time frame of the prime minister’s term in office, is not at all inconsistent with Netanyahu’s stated hope that eventually there be two states. It appears that the news media and the Obama administration overreacted to what should have been a non-controversial statement in a campaign interview.

Now that the Obama administration understands that Netanyahu is not unalterably opposed to a Palestinian state, do you think it will start treating Israel like an ally? No, I don’t think so, either.

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