Newspaper article International New York Times

Netanyahu Reopens Door to a 2-State Solution ; Pre-Election Declaration Only Meant to Rule It out Right Now, Premier Says

Newspaper article International New York Times

Netanyahu Reopens Door to a 2-State Solution ; Pre-Election Declaration Only Meant to Rule It out Right Now, Premier Says

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not intended to reverse his endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has tried to backtrack from his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, but his new assertions appeared to do nothing to assuage an infuriated Obama administration.

In a series of interviews with American broadcasters on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu also said he had not been trying to suppress the votes of Arab citizens with an Election Day video warning that they were being bused to polling stations in "droves," remarks that had also caused outrage at the White House and around the world.

Mr. Netanyahu said he had not intended to reverse his endorsement in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but only to say that it was impossible right now.

He cited the Palestinian leadership's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and its pact with the militant Islamist Hamas movement, as well as the rise of Islamic terrorism across the region.

"I haven't changed my policy," Mr. Netanyahu said in an interview with MSNBC, his first since his resounding victory on Tuesday, which appeared to have handed him a fourth term. "What has changed is the reality."

"I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change," he said. "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."

But Mr. Netanyahu did not say he was ready to return to negotiations or to present any new ideas for achieving peace.

President Obama waited nearly two full days before making a congratulatory phone call to Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday evening, as his administration was still seething over the Israeli leader's pre- election comments.

In a striking indication of how bitter tensions remain between the two, Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu directly that the United States would have to "re-assess our options" after the prime minister's "new positions and comments" on the two-state solution, according to a White House official who spoke without authorization to detail the private conversation.

During the phone call, the official said, the two also discussed the comments the prime minister had made about Israeli Arabs.

The formal White House account of the call made no mention of the criticism, although it noted that Mr. Obama had "reaffirmed the United States' longstanding commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine."

The statement also said Mr. Obama reiterated his intention to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program -- another sore point with Mr. …

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