WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed on his pre-election promise that he would not allow for the creation of a Palestinian state.
"I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution," Netanyahu said Thursday during an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
These remarks come three days after Netanyahu told Israeli voters that there would not be a Palestinian state if he were to be elected prime minister. While this vow helped the embattled prime minister surge ahead of his opponents in Tuesday’s election, it may come at the cost of a reliable U.S. down vote on Palestinian statehood initiatives at the U.N. After the election, the Obama administration issued a statement that it would “reevaluate its policy on how to best achieve a two-state solution.”
During Thursday’s interview, the prime minister said that he never indicated a change in policy. “I was talking about what was achievable and what was not achievable,” Netanyahu said, referring to his pre-election statement that there would be no Palestinian state if he were elected.
“You can’t impose peace. If you want to get peace, you have got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas, and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for achievable peace,” Netanyahu told Mitchell, noting that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would create a terrorist state armed by Iran.
To those that closely follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu’s reversal was predictable, but meaningless.
“You can’t unsay things that have been said," Alan Elsner, the vice president of communications at J Street, an American pro-Israel organization, told The Huffington Post. "He was very clear in his statement. And the United States is not the only audience for this. The whole world heard it, including Palestinians and Europeans.”
Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, a nonprofit dedicated to Israeli-Palestinian peace, said Netanyahu’s disavowal of a Palestinian state was not newsworthy, but in line with his policies as prime minister.
“If he had spent the past six years through word and deed demonstrating a clear commitment to a two-state solution, the argument that it was just election rhetoric would have had more weight,” she said. “Just based on his track record in office, it is fair to conclude that he is not committed to a two-state solution in the sense that any serious person would consider a viable solution. That would have been a fair conclusion already, based on settlement construction.”
According to Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli politician who crafted the Oslo Accord and the Geneva Initiative, the context in which Netanyahu swore off a Palestinian state is irrelevant. “Whether it was in the context of the campaign, or a slip of the tongue, this is the prime minister of Israel," he said. "This is his new commitment -- that he is not committed to the two-state solution.”
The Palestinian envoy to the U.N., Ambassador Riyad Mansour, pointed to Netanyahu’s pre-election stance on a Palestinian state and his subsequent victory as evidence that statehood through international recognition was the only option for Palestinians.
"Netanyahu's recent comments regarding how he does not envision a Palestinian state indicate that we do not have an Israeli partner for peace,” Mansour told HuffPost. “The question will be whether the international community will accept this obstructionist position or find ways to implement the two-state solution, including through the Security Council."
Last April, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, and in December, he moved to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinian membership in the ICC is scheduled to go into effect on April 1.
While the Obama administration supports a two-state solution, it has consistently opposed Palestinian efforts at the U.N., instead urging Palestinians to negotiate directly with Israel. The White House said Wednesday that if Netanyahu was not willing to accept a Palestinian state, negotiations may not be viable.
The most obvious alternative to negotiations with the Israelis would be to support the Palestinians in their U.N. efforts. This, however, would be a stark about-face of U.S. policy. As U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power reminded members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee earlier this month, the U.S. has historically been a reliable buffer for Israel in the U.N.
Last July, the U.S. voted against a resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council that launched an investigation into possible Israeli violations of the law of war and humanitarian law in Gaza and the West Bank. As the only state to vote against the resolution, the U.S. alleged that the U.N. leveled insignificant criticism at Hamas.
At last September’s General Assembly, there were 18 resolutions that were critical of Israel. The U.S. opposed all of them.
In December the U.S. voted against a U.N. Security Council resolution that demanded the Israeli occupation end within three years. While it was widely assumed that the U.S. would have exercised its veto power if necessary, the resolution fell one vote short of passing.
At the time, Power explained, "We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because... peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”
Power’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Beilin, the former Israeli politician, predicted that the U.S. will be more hesitant to veto or vote against future Palestinian initiatives in the U.N. “There will be a new draft resolution about the two-state solution and settlements. And I believe that the Americans will not use their veto power for such a resolution,” he said. “I think Obama is personally very, very angry. The whole world gave Israel a pass during the electoral campaign and said, ‘Let’s wait for March 17. On March 18, it’s another world, another U.N., another Obama.’”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday the department has not yet decided if there would be a change of policy going forward at the U.N.