Well, that didn’t take long.
Not two days after his Likud Party won Israel’s parliamentary elections, in part on a promise to the hard right that he would “never” allow a Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he in fact does support a “two-state” solution.
On Monday, the day before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu was asked by Israel’s NRG news organization if it was true that he would “never” allow a Palestinian state if he continued on served as prime minister.
“Indeed,” Netanyahu replied. He went on to say, “Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel.”
He contrasted himself with the left-leaning Zionist Union candidates, whom he accused of “sticking their head in the sand, time and time again.”
However, Netanyahu’s tone had dramatically changed by the time he sat down for an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday.
“I don’t want a one-state solution,” he said. “I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change.”
Netanyahu insisted that he was not contradicting himself, and that none of his remarks prior to the election were in conflict with his support — at least in theory — for a two-state solution, which he first voiced in 2009. “Every territory that is vacated in the Middle East today is taken up by Islamist forces,” he said. “We want that to change so we can realize a vision of real, sustained peace.”
He continued, “We need the conditions of recognition of a Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution,” he said. “And I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace. We are. It’s time we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed too.”
Mitchell also asked Netanyahu about his election-day warning to the Israeli right that Arab voters were turning out “in droves,” and would subvert the will of the Israeli people if they weren’t countered by strong right-wing turnout. Netanyahu came under worldwide criticism for those remarks, which seemed to imply that Israel’s Arab citizens are not true Israelis.
“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike,” Netanyahu said. “I’m very proud that Israel is the only country in a very broad radius in which Arabs have free and fair elections. That’s sacrosanct. That will never change.”
It is unclear whether Netanyahu’s change of tune is simply a walking-back of cynical pre-election rhetoric or a response to pressure from abroad — particularly Washington.
In the days following the election, the White House has sharply criticized Netanyahu’s remarks about his Arab citizens, saying the Obama administration was “deeply troubled” by them. His apparent abandonment of the two-state solution in his pre-election comments also removed one of the justifications the U.S. has used for protecting Israel from pro-Palestinian proposals in the United Nations.
In the wake of the election, White House officials reportedly said the administration is “reassessing” the U.S.-Israel relationship. That, by itself, might have been enough to encourage Netanyahu to begin moderating his stance.
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