Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is calling on the Palestinians to abandon ties with Hamas in order to advance peace negotiations. (AFP: Jack Guez)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied rejecting the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, backing away from pre-election comments that deepened a rift with Israel’s ally the United States.
On the eve of this week’s general election, Mr Netanyahu ruled out the establishment of the Palestinian state if he was re-elected.
But the White House, unmoved by Mr Netanyahu’s post-election effort to backtrack, delivered a fresh rebuke against the Israeli leader and signalled that Washington may reconsider its long-standing policy of shielding Israel from international pressure at the United Nations.
“I haven’t changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with MSNBC two days after winning the bitterly contested election.
“What has changed is the reality,” Mr Netanyahu said, citing the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and the Hamas militant group’s continued control of the Gaza Strip.
Mr Netanyahu accused Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of rejecting “the acceptance of a Jewish state”.
“He’s made a pact with the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas that calls for our destruction,” he said.
The Israeli leader also pointed to turmoil in the region unleashed in the wake of the Arab Spring, claiming that meant militants from the Islamic State group were only dozens of miles from Israel’s borders.
Shortly after Mr Netanyahu’s interview aired, US officials made clear they were not buying it.
The White House warned there would be “consequences” for Israel as the Obama administration re-evaluates its Middle East diplomatic strategy and monitors the formation of Mr Netanyahu’s new ruling coalition.
“He walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two-state solution,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
“It is cause for the United States to evaluate what our path is forward.”
The harsh US response signalled that US-Israeli relations, already at their lowest point since president Barack Obama took office, could deteriorate even further.
Netanyahu foreshadows fresh peace talks
During the interview with MSNBC television, Mr Netanyahu insisted he was “proud to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews alike” after triggering outrage for warning supporters that Israeli Arabs were “turning out in droves” to the polls.
He suggested that he remained open to the possibility of new peace talks, saying: “I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable.”
“We withdrew from Gaza, we got thousands of rockets on our heads. [We] don’t want it to happen again,” he said.
“I think the administration has said time and time again, the only way to achieve peace is a negotiated solution — you can’t impose peace.
“If you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for an achievable peace.”
The Israeli leader also maintained that his controversial anti-Arab comments on a Facebook page aimed at drumming up support at the ballot box were an attempt “to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party”.
Some outside groups had vowed to “try to get out votes for a specific party, an amalgamation of Islamists and other groups,” Mr Netanyahu said, without giving any details, insisting he was not “trying to suppress a vote”.
The White House on Wednesday chastised Mr Netanyahu for his remarks, saying such rhetoric “seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens.”