WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is still committed to Palestinian statehood if circumstances improve, pulling back from comments he made during his re-election campaign rejecting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I don’t want a one-state solution,” Netanyahu said in an interview Thursday on MSNBC. “I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.”
Netanyahu said the burden lies with the Palestinians, who must accept Israel and end attacks against the nation’s interests.
The prime minister drew criticism from the U.S. after he said on Monday, the day before Israeli voters went to the polls, that he wouldn’t agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state while he held office.
“I think that whoever today moves to establish a Palestinian state and withdraw from territory is giving attack territory for Islamic extremists against the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told the NRG news website. “Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand.” Asked if that meant no Palestinian state if he were to win a fourth term on Tuesday, Netanyahu said, “Indeed.”
On Thursday, he said he was referring to “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,” he said on MSNBC. “We are. It’s time that we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed too.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Netanyahu isn’t serious about making peace.
“We will not back down from our effort to seek international legitimacy,” Abbas said Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa. He didn’t elaborate.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is rethinking its approach to the region because of Netanyahu’s campaign comments. He said Netanyahu “walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two-state solution.”
Along with a rebuke, Earnest delivered a veiled threat that the U.S. will reconsider its policy of siding with Israel in votes before the United National Security Council.
“The United States is in a position to reevaluate our thinking about this and a wide range of other issues that do have some consequences for actions that we take at the U.N.,” Earnest said. “Certainly some new thinking needs to go into how we’re going to approach these issues.
Earnest said that no decisions have been made yet.
President Barack Obama, who has had a chilly relationship with Netanyahu during his entire term, may call the prime minister to talk about the election as soon as Thursday, Earnest said.
Many, including some White House officials, had long expressed skepticism toward Netanyahu’s acceptance of two states. Historically, he had been opposed and only in 2009 did he say he accepted it. Even so, he always talked about why that solution couldn’t come about, not why it could.
Soon after starting his third term in June 2009, Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state if it were demilitarized and recognized Israel as a Jewish state. His words, delivered at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, were the foundation of a series of U.S.-backed efforts to revive peace negotiations that ultimately crashed last April. Earlier this month, Netanyahu said his 2009 remarks were no longer relevant because of unrest across the Middle East.