President Barack Obama is operating under the assumption that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not support the creation of a Palestinian state, despite the Israeli leader’s post-election efforts to recast himself as amenable to a two-state solution.
“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” the president said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday.
Though he pledged to keep working with the Israeli government on military and intelligence operations, Obama declined to say whether the United States would continue to block Palestinian efforts to secure statehood through the United Nations. In a phone conversation the two had on Thursday, he said he indicated to Netanyahu that “it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”
In his first public comments on Tuesday’s elections in Israel, Obama’s deepest discomfort was saved for Netanyahu’s Election Day warning about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls “in droves.”
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” said Obama. “And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”
The president’s comments cap a geopolitical backlash sparked by Netanyahu’s statement on Monday that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch. The Israeli prime minister has since insisted that he remains open to a two-state solution under very specific, restrictive conditions. But the damage appears to have been done, with the White House offering only the most perfunctory of diplo-speak to obscure its frustrations.
While he expressed worry about the strain that Netanyahu had placed on Israel’s democratic fabric, Obama did not see the Israeli prime minister’s electoral victory as having a tangible impact on current negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. With just days to go before those talks between Iran, the U.S. and five other countries are scheduled to wrap, Obama offered a markedly sober assessment about the prospects for a deal.
“Frankly,” he said, “they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there’s the possibility.”
Standing in the way of that final deal, according to recent reports, are lingering disputes over limits on new types of centrifuges that Iran wants to develop and the pace of international sanctions relief to be given to the country after a deal is struck.
Negotiators took a hiatus for the observation of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. The president on Friday encouraged everybody involved to use that time to grow more “comfortable with the current positions that are being taken.”
“Our goal,” he added, “is to get this done in a matter of weeks, not months.”
SOURCE: Sam Stein
The Huffington Post