White House suggests US policy toward Israel could change

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The White House on Thursday sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tactics during his reelection campaign, warning that they could alter U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinian bid for statehood.

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Netanyahu, who won decisively, appeared on Thursday to walk back his repudiation of a two-state solution with the Palestinians made just days before the election. But the White House’s comments indicate that Netanyahu’s campaign further strained already-tense relations between Obama and the Israeli prime minister.

Press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily press briefing that the administration would “reevaluate the strategy” it uses in making decisions at the U.N. and other international forums based on Netanyahu’s decision to go back on his support for Palestinian statehood.

“Words matter and that is certainly true in this instance," the spokesman said.

No decisions have been made, but Earnest said it could be “difficult” for the U.S. to keep opposing Palestinian statehood resolutions at the United Nations.

The U.S. has traditionally objected to the statehood resolutions, arguing the matter should be left to the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israeli support for a two-state solution is “the foundation of a number of policy decisions that have been made here. And now that that foundation has been eroded,” Earnest said.

Earnest also chastised Netanyahu for warning his supporters in the run up to the election that Arab-Israelis were voting in large numbers.

He called the rhetoric a “cynical” and “divisive” campaign maneuver that marginalized Arab-Israeli citizens and undermined democratic values.

The Israeli prime minister on Thursday denied that he changed his policy toward a Palestinian state, saying the remarks were a reflection of the current political atmosphere.

“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” he said during an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Asked about his rhetoric on Arab-Israel voters, Netanyahu said “I’m proud to be the prime minister of all Israelis — Arabs and Jews alike.”

Obama has not yet called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory, but Earnest said that could happen as soon as Thursday.

Obama was "aware" of Netanyahu's comments on Palestinian statehood but Earnest would not characterize his reaction.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu on Wednesday to commend his victory. 

The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been tense since both leaders took office in 2009. It is not clear whether the two leaders will be able to rebuild their rapport.

Tensions reached a fever pitch earlier this month when Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress, in which he slammed the Obama administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Democrats were angry that Netanyahu accepted Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) invitation to speak without informing the White House. Obama and Netanyahu did not meet during the Israeli leader's U.S. visit.

Netanyahu said Thursday he has “no other alternative” but to work with Obama despite their disagreements over how to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.

“We must work together, will work together with the United States and with the president,” Netanyahu said.

Despite disagreements over Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Earnest said that security and military cooperation between Israel and the U.S. would remain unchanged.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough next Monday will deliver the keynote address at the national conference of J Street, a pro-Israel lobbying group that has been critical of Netanyahu.

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