Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wasted no time in trying to walk back the rhetoric used in the closing days of his ultimately successful re-election campaign. Tellingly, he chose to do so in the American media, telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States.”
This comes after a campaign that included a commercial arguing that Israel wouldn’t exist if it always listened to America, an allegation that U.S. money was driving high Arab turnout, and, of course, a speech to the U.S. Congress that infuriated the Obama administration and many Democrats. President Obama has not yet called to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory, and White House officials say Netanyahu’s campaign comments, which included a disavowal of Palestinian statehood, could lead to a “reassessment” of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
In the NBC interview, Netanyahu denied that he had changed his opinion on the two-state solution, telling Mitchell that the onus is on the Palestinians: “We need the conditions of recognition of a Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution. And I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable.”
When Netanyahu was asked in an interview during the closing days of the campaign whether his stance meant that that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister, he replied, “Indeed.”
Prior to that, Netanyahu’s position on the two-state solution had essentially been that he was theoretically OK with it, but not under the conditions any Palestinian government would ever agree to. Even the famous 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, in which Netanyahu made his strongest ever endorsement of a demilitarized Palestinian state, didn’t address the question of what that state’s borders would be and included caveats such as a united Jerusalem as capital of Israel and allowance for the “natural growth” of West Bank settlements, which the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saab Erekat* said would “render a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state impossible.”
More recently Netanyahu said that last summer’s war in Gaza had proved that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” meaning the West Bank. Given that condition, it’s hard to imagine the creation of anything resembling what we traditionally consider a country.
To sum up: During his campaign Netanyahu shifted from supporting a theoretical “state” under conditions he knows will never come to pass, to admitting they will never come to pass, and has now moved back to the previous position. Either way, his actual position on the issue is pretty clear.
*Correction, March 19, 2015: This post originally misspelled Saeb Erekat’s first name.