World star flip-flop: Netanyahu off to rocky start

Benjamin Netanyahu

(CNN) Two days after his victory at the polls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already walked back his disavowal of a two-state solution.

“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Netanyahu said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I haven’t changed my policy.”

U.S. officials have said that they have been waiting to see if Netanyahu would stand behind his campaign comments nixing a Palestinian state as he moves toward forming a governing coalition, and indicated that they would be reassessing aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship if he maintained his firm opposition to a Palestinian state.

The Israeli leader’s comments to MSNBC Thursday did not seem to mollify the White House, with administration officials still “reevaluating” its positions, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Earnest, however, stopped short of saying that the U.S. would be offering support for U.N. resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which is opposed by Jerusalem. U.S. officials have floated that as a possibility in the wake of Netanyahu’s remarks.

Earnest also said that White House officials are in touch with their Israeli counterparts to try and schedule a call between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. That call, he said, could come “as early as today.”

Netanyahu angered the Obama administration when, in an attempt to drive right-wing voters to the polls in the homestretch of the election, the prime minister said in an interview that there would not be a Palestinian state under his watch if he were reelected.

Asked by Israeli news site NRG on Monday if he was ruling out the formation of a Palestinian state while he’s prime minister, Netanyahu responded, “Indeed.” He also blasted the idea of such a state given the security challenges facing Israel.

Netanyahu’s comments Monday were seen as a key part to his Tuesday election victory but also “raised significant concerns” with senior administration officials back in Washington, who view ruling out a two-state solution as a significant setback for U.S.-Israel relations as it goes against more than a decade of American policy.

On Thursday, Netanyahu said his comments were a reflection of changing conditions on the Palestinian side, pointing to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s pact to form a unity government with Hamas, which Israel, the U.S. and most European countries consider a terrorist organization. He put the onus on Palestinian leaders to create conditions favorable for peace.

“I’m talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,” Netanyahu said Thursday. “If you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel.”

Netanyahu said he supports the same conditions for negotiating a sustainable peace that he staked out in 2009: a demilitarized Palestinian state whose leadership recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu also walked back another controversial campaign remark, in which he urged his supporters to go out to counteract the effect of Arab voters who he said were rushing to the polls “in droves.”

Earnest on Thursday said those comments “erode at the values that are critical to the bond between our two countries.”

“I wasn’t trying to suppress the vote … I was calling on our voters to come out,” Netanyahu said. “I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all Israel’s citizens.”

Netanyahu went on to point out that he drew support from “quite a few Arab voters” and spoke of “free and fair elections” in Israel that aren’t commonplace in the rest of the Middle East.

Netanyahu also shrugged off the criticism of the Obama administration.

The Israeli prime minister pointed to the “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel and downplayed strains in his personal relationship with Obama.

“America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States,” Netanyahu said. “We’ll work together. We have to.”

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