Netanyahu: ‘No State for Palestinians’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday walked back his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, and said he had not been trying to suppress the votes of Arab citizens when he posted a video on Election Day warning that they were heading to polling stations in large numbers, the Israeli press report.
Netanyahu said in an interview on MSNBC that he still wanted ‘‘a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution’’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he had not intended to reverse the position he took endorsing that in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University. But he said the Palestinian leadership’s refusalto recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and its pact with the militant Islamist movement Hamas, made that impossible right now.
‘‘I haven’t changed my policy,’’ Netanyahu said in the interview, his first since his resounding victory on Tuesday, which appeared to hand him a fourth term in office. ‘‘What has changed is the reality.’’
‘‘I don’t want a one-state solution,’’ he added. ‘‘I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.’’
He continued: ‘‘I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.’’
The White House and European leaders had expressed alarm over Netanyahu’s statement, on the eve of what had seemed like a close election, that there would never be a Palestinian state as long as he remained in office.
Obama administration officials said Wednesday that in light of that statement, they would consider supporting a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a sovereign Palestine roughly along the pre-1967 lines that divided Israel from the West Bank and Gaza.
‘‘We are now in a reality where the Israeli government no longer supports direct negotiations,’’ a senior White House official said. ‘‘Therefore, we clearly have to factor that into our decisions going forward.’’
Washington has long questioned Netanyahu’s commitmentto a two-state solution and his seriousness about negotiations toward that outcome. Talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed last spring, for example. Those suspicions seemed confirmed on Tuesday when Netanyahu answered ‘‘correct’’ after being asked directly in a video interview with a right-leaning Israeli news site, ‘‘If you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?’’
‘‘I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the State of Israel,’’ Netanyahu told the news site, NRG. ‘‘Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand.’’
Many Israeli analysts saw this as a blatant, somewhat desperate appeal to take votes from parties on his right flank that support unfettered construction in West Bank settlements — which is exactly what happened — and fully expected Netanyahu to backtrack after the ballots were tallied.
He made his 2009 speech embracing the concept of two states for two peoples shortly after a campaign in which he did not support it. Such reversals are relatively common in Israeli politics.
Earlier on Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, seized on Netanyahu’s original repudiation of a two-state solution to say he would continue his unilateral strategy of seeking full United Nations recognition and using the International Criminal Court to press war-crimes charges against Israelis.
‘‘If these things are true, it means that the Israeli government has no serious intentions to reach a peace agreement that will create two states based on the 1967 borders,’’ Abbas said at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah. ‘‘We therefore will not retreat from our position to apply international law, and so it is our right to go anywhere in the world to realize our rights according to international law.’’
The executive committee also denounced Netanyahu’s expression of alarm in a video on Tuesday about Arab citizens’ voting ‘‘in droves.’’ A White House spokesman on Wednesday called it ‘‘deeply concerning,’’ ‘‘divisive’’ and an attempt to ‘‘marginalize Arab citizens.’’
In the interview on Thursday, with the MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, Netanyahu also sought to explain those statements and repair the damage, saying, ‘‘I’m very proud to be prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.’’
He said his concern had been a ‘‘massive foreign-funded effort’’ to bus Arabs to polling places in order to oust him from office.
‘‘I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote,’’ Netanyahu. ‘‘I was trying to get something to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party, and I was calling on our voters to come out.’’
He added that he was proud that his Likud party had won some votes in Arab towns.
‘‘I’m very proud of the fact that Israel is the one country in a very broad radius in which Arabs have free and fair elections,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s sacrosanct. That will never change.’’
As the election approached, with polls showing his party trailing its center-left challenger, Netanyahu took a series of hard-line stances in a campaign blitz that several Israeli commentators wryly observed included more interviews over six days than he had done in six years.
Netanyahu’s office did not respond to an interview request from The NewYork Times on Thursday — as it ignored similar requests Wednesday and in the days before the election.
The prime minister was also scheduled to appear on Fox News on Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern time and to tape a conversation for Friday’s ‘‘Morning Edition’’ program on National Public Radio.