White House: U.S. Will "Re-Assess Options" With Israel

White House: U.S. Will "Re-Assess Options" With Israel
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President Obama, in a chilly post-election congratulatory call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, objected to the Israeli leader’s “new positions” opposing a Palestinian state, as well as to Netanyahu’s harsh comments about Israeli Arabs prior to his parliamentary victory Tuesday night.

As evidence the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu went from bad to worse in recent weeks, a senior White House official said the president repeated to the prime minister what U.S. officials have said publicly: “We will need to re-assess our options following the prime minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.”

One of those options could be a United Nations Security Council resolution affirming a two-state solution policy, which would include Israel’s pre-1967 borders with Palestine. That would likely call on Israel to give up territory to the Palestinians in exchange for holding Jewish territory on the West Bank.

Until recently, the Obama administration viewed such a public clash with Israel as too provocative and punitive. If indeed Netanyahu believes he cannot support direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, as he suggested in comments he has since softened during interviews, the United States will weigh alternatives, the White House insists.

“The president made the same points in private that the administration has been making in public,” the senior official said.

Obama, who traveled to Ohio for an event Wednesday and had a full schedule Thursday at the White House, waited two days to speak with Netanyahu following the prime minister’s Likud Party parliamentary election victory – a triumph the administration had done nothing to encourage.

During a National Public Radio interview to air Friday, Netanyahu attempted to explain his campaign comments interpreted as retreating from a future Palestinian state.

“What I said was that under the present circumstances, today, it is unachievable,” Netanyahu says in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. “I said that the conditions have to change.”

In a written statement following the telephone call, the White House said Obama re-emphasized “the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” while agreeing to continued “consultations” on issues including “the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During their conversation, Obama challenged Netanyahu’s stance, restating the long-running U.S. policy of a “sovereign and viable Palestine,” according to the White House.

The two leaders, who have publicly clashed over Iran’s nuclear program and the multilateral negotiations that could lift sanctions in exchange for nuclear restrictions, revisited their disagreements on that subject, too. During a March 3 address to a joint session of Congress—a speech Netanyahu knew beforehand was a source of vexation in the White House—the prime minister sought to undermine American support for the deal Obama is attempting to negotiate with Iran.

On Election Day, Netanyahu sought to rally voter support and increase turnout using a video message that warned of “droves” of Israeli Arabs being bused to the polls. The Obama administration over two days condemned those remarks as “cynical,” “divisive” and an affront to democratic ideals and national inclusiveness.

There was no indication Obama retreated from that assessment during his conversation with the prime minister.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will be the keynote speaker March 23 at the annual J Street convention in Washington, which is expected to bring together more than 3,000 mostly liberal backers of Israel, who also support a Palestinian state and applaud Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran.

J Street announced its roster of VIP speakers Thursday. Within minutes, the White House National Security Council redistributed the group’s media release, calling attention to McDonough’s participation. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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