Tuesday’s elections in Israel, which appear likely to give Benjamin Netanyahu another term as Prime Minister, may have been a signal that it’s time for the White House to repair President Obama’s chilly relationship with the hard-right Israeli premier. But if so, someone in the administration didn’t get the message. Rather than congratulating Netanyahu on his victory, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that the president was deeply concerned about the “divisive rhetoric” the Israeli premier used to help assure his reelection.
According to multiple reports, Earnest made the comments while speaking to reporters on Air Force One Wednesday, during President Obama’s trip to Ohio, where he was to deliver a speech.
Earnest said that the president had not yet called to congratulate Netanyahu, but would do so in the near future. He said that the White House would also complain directly to the Israeli government about remarks Netanyahu made during the final days of the election.
Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party was facing what appeared to be a strong challenge from the left-leaning Zionist Union party. In the days prior to the vote Netanyahu suggested that Arab voters were somehow subverting the will of the Israeli people, in what appeared to be a last ditch effort to rally the hard right to his cause.
Writing on Facebook, Netanyahu warned that “the right wing government is in danger” because “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
Netanyahu, who had previously claimed that foreign nations were bankrolling an international conspiracy to defeat him, also said, “This foreign money is distorting the true will of the Israeli citizens toward the left and giving excessive power to the extreme Arab list. The rule of the right is in danger.”
Netanyahu’s critics were quick to point out that the Arabs in question are Israeli citizens who have every right to vote, regardless of how they get to the polls. More than a few critics suggested that Netanyahu’s comments smacked of racism.
Earlier in the week leading up to the election, Netanyahu further frustrated the White House by declaring that while he serves as Prime Minister there will never be a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians living on the West Bank of the Jordan river and the Gaza Strip.
The United States, along with most of Europe has long supported negotiations toward a solution that allows Palestinians the right to self-determination. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent a large part of 2013 and 2014 trying to broker such talks.
With Netanyahu expected to head the new Israeli government, the prospect of any settlement appears dead, which will, among other things, complicate the United States’ role as Israel’s protector in the United Nations.
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