President Obama on Friday said given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election vow to prevent a Palestinian state, the U.S. must "evaluate what other options are available" to prevent chaos in the region.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Huffington Post, Obama said that during his congratulatory call to Netanyahu — more than a day after the prime minister's reelection — he reaffirmed that the U.S. continues to believe that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel's longterm security, "if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic."
"And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible," Obama told HuffPo's Sam Stein.
Despite the political disagreement over a two-state solution, Obama made clear in the interview that the U.S. would continue to maintain close military and intelligence ties with Israel.
But, he added, "we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel's security, we can't just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That's not a recipe for stability in the region."
Obama's comments come on the back end of a U.S. media blitz by Netanyahu, in which he sought to strike a more nuanced stance on the possibility of a Palestinian state in interviews with several news networks.
In his first American interview since his hard-fought reelection, Netanyahu appeared to walk back comments regarding a two-state solution that he made at the tail end of his campaign, telling NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that he doesn't want a "one-state solution."
"I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution," he said.
That comment is far cry from what he told an Israeli news outlet in the build up to election day that he was strongly opposed to the formation of a Palestinian state — a reversal from his earlier endorsement of a two-state solution that he made in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009.
Netanyahu defended his rhetoric, saying he has always supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But for that to happen, current circumstances have to change, he said, referring to the Palestinian Authority's refusal to recognize Israel and its pact with Hamas, which has called for Israel's destruction.
"I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable," Netanyahu told NBC News. "To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace."
Netanyahu also infuriated the White House and other world leaders when he warned supporters on election day that left-wing organizations were busing Arab citizens to the polls in "droves." Critics blasted the comments as a last-ditch attempt at suppressing the Arab vote while rallying conservatives, an allegation Netanyahu denied in his interviews stateside.
Others said Netanyahu's anti-two-state rhetoric was a last minute ploy to siphon votes from the right flanks of his party — a move that appeared to have worked.
When HuffPo asked Obama if, given the criss-crossing rhetoric, he believed Netanyahu is serious about a Palestinian state, the president replied:
"Well, 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."
After the Israeli election, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that Netanyahu is not a partner for peace, and that his re-election is "dangerous" for those who want a two-state solution.
Erekat also warned that the Palestinian Authority was moving forward on threats to cut existing security arrangements with Israel — one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between the two sides.
A Palestinian Authority official who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the effort to cease security cooperation was moving ahead. Such a move could lead to no longer coordinating with the Israeli army when it wants to enter Palestinian territories. Another step would include no longer arresting Palestinian militants on behalf of Israeli Defense Forces.
Watch the segment of the HuffPo interview here:
BuzzFeed News reporter Sheera Frenkel contributed reporting.
Jason Wells is deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jason Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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