By now everyone has heard all about Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement about a two-state solution not happening while he is Prime Minister, and also his possibly ill-advised words warning about Arabs being bussed in to vote on election day.
I call his statement about the Arabs ill-advised because someone of Netanyahu’s stature and experience should have realised the fallout that they would cause. and indeed it led to being interpreted by the left as racism – they in effect accused him of objecting to the Arabs voting at all. However, when looking beyond the screaming headlines, it is obvious that Netanyahu was not calling for the Arabs’ disenfranchisement. He was simply pointing out that the Arabs were voting in huge numbers and was therefore calling on his own voters to come out in similar numbers to prevent being ousted. This is a legitimate call for a politician to make, although I still think he should have thought twice about the wording as he was handing ammunition to his enemies.
However the biggest fuss is being made of Netanyahu’s other “controversial” statement, about a Palestinian state not being established under his watch, in answer to a question from to the NRG Hebrew news site:
The prime minister warned in an interview with the NRG news website Monday that a Zionist Union-led government would push for relinquishing territory, a move he said was tantamount to “burying its head in the sand.”
“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is the true reality that has been created in past years. Those that ignore it are burying their heads in the sand. The left does this, buries its head in the sand, time and again.”
Asked directly whether no Palestinian state would be created under his leadership, the prime minister answered: “Indeed.”
It is clear that Netanyahu’s one-word answer was a simple statement of fact, not a new policy. But as if lying in wait for a statement exactly such as this, the Obama Administration seized upon Netanyahu’s words and accused him of backtracking on his pledge to establish a Palestinian state and work towards a two state solution. And when Netanyahu clarified that he meant it as a statement of fact, rather than staking out a new direction or expressing a fervent wish, Washington remained frosty while Obama snootily decided, like a headmaster chiding a naughty schoolboy, that Netanyahu was not being sincere:
WASHINGTON — The State Department said Wednesday that the US would “evaluate” its approach to the two-state solution in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of Palestinian statehood during his campaign for reelection
“Based on the prime minister’s comments, the US is in a position going forward in which we will be evaluating our approach with regards to how best to achieve a two-state solution,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during her press briefing.
She acknowledged that “the fact that [Netanyahu] has changed his opinion certainly has an impact” on US decision-making moving forward.
Prof. Jacobson shows how the media distorted Netanyahu’s words , thus implying he was zig-zagging when he walked them back:
If you take the actual text of Netanyahu said, he never ruled out a two-state solution and never discouraged Arab voting. But those were the headlines and the foaming-at-the mouth hyperbole, fomented by the Obama administration in numerous anonymous statements to the media.
Netanyahu expressed his clarifications in an interview on MSNBC (at the link above):
But even after Netanyahu’s clarification, the White House stood by its ungracious and unrelenting rejection of Netanyahu’s stance:
Although Netanyahu later backtracked, and reiterated a commitment in principle to a “sustainable, peeaceful two-state solution,” Obama told The Huffington Post in an interview published Saturday that his administration is now operating under the assumption that Netanyahu does not envision the creation of a Palestinian state.
“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership,” Obama said, “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.”
Former Ambassador and spokesman Dore Gold also attempted to explain the brouhaha and tries to bring some clarity to the disagreement in an interview on CNN:
Clarifications notwithstanding, relations between the two countries have now descended to such a level that Netanyahu has been left with the strong impression that the US will not back Israel at the UN any more. There is a disturbing twist in this tale: it appears that the Administration has been waiting for an excuse to “reassess” their relationship with Israel for 4 months – four months!! – i.e. long before Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and certainly long before the elections were even called:
Quoting unnamed Israeli sources, they said the president made clear he didn’t believe Netanyahu was genuinely supportive of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, and that he indicated that the US would no longer automatically support Israel at the United Nations.
According to a Channel 10 read out on the call, indeed, Obama left Netanyahu with “the impression that he intends to abandon Israel at the UN.”
The United States has actually been considering a reevaluation of ties with Israel, including its automatic support for the Jewish state at the United Nations Security Council, for at least four months, the Israeli sources also told Channel 2. Although the White House claims the reassessment was prompted by Netanyahu’s remarks on Monday in which he rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state — and which he walked back Thursday — that is not the case, according to the officials.
The White House is certainly giving every impression that it is trying its hardest to ignore any and every attempt by Netanyahu to appease them, placate them and backtrack on anything which might upset them.
Asked Friday why the White House was not taking Netanyahu at his word, White House spokesman Josh Earnest retorted, “Well I guess the question is: Which one?” Earnest said the Obama administration did take Netanyahu at his word — and understood that the prime minister does not envision a Palestinian state being established during his term in office.
“The divergent comments of the prime minister legitimately call into question his commitment to this policy principle and his lack of commitment to what has been the foundation of our policy-making in the region,” Earnest said. Netanyahu had prompted questions about his “true view” on the two-state solution, the spokesman added. “Words matter.”
Sure they do. So do the words of promised support by the US matter to Israel. Trust is a two way street Mr. Spokesman. Nowadays Israel can’t trust a word that the Administration says, and not only Israel. Ask any Saudi, Jordanian or Egyptian how they feel about American support these days.
And then the threats:
Earnest said the administration has not decided what a reassessment in policy might mean. But he noted that in the past, the US has regularly opposed UN resolutions to create a Palestinian state by arguing that such a two-state arrangement should be negotiated between the parties. “What has now changed is that our ally in those conversations, Israel, has indicated that they are not committed to that approach anymore,” Earnest said.
Translation: “Nice little country you got there. Shame if something nasty happened to it. By accident you understand. Just a misunderstanding…”.
Charles Krauthammer aptly calls the Obama Administration’s reactions “unseemly” and “spiteful” (via Legal Insurrection):
But Israel is not alone. Stay tuned for another post on Israel’s wonderful defenders in Congress.