Obama finally calls Netanyahu, says US rethinking Palestinian policy
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Obama finally calls Netanyahu, says US rethinking Palestinian policy

Congratulating PM on election victory, president also reportedly protests Likud leader's anti-Arab and anti-two-state comments

US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Pete Souza/ White House)
US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Pete Souza/ White House)

US President Barack Obama on Thursday called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his recent election win, after a campaign that soured relations between the two allies.

Obama spoke to the Israeli leader “to congratulate him on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats,” the National Security Council said in a statement.

But Obama also told Netanyahu that the US is reassessing its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace in light of Netanyahu’s pre-election comments rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state, a White House official said. Netanyahu had backtracked on those comments earlier Thursday, but the White House had swiftly dismissed his new, more moderate comments.

The White House official said Obama also raised Netanyahu’s critical comments about Israeli Arabs voting in disproportionately high numbers on election day, which the White House has denounced as a “cynical” effort to mobilize voters.

Asked whether the subject came up in the phone call, the White House official said, “In his phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president made the same points in private that the administration has been making in public.”

Obama also addressed negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program and said he was focused on a deal that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

According to the White House, Obama “emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries.”

The two leaders “agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Some pundits had seen a delay in Obama calling Netanyahu as a sign of poor ties between the two.

In the lead-up to the elections, Netanyahu disavowed his commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians, remarks he retracted after his election victory.

“The President reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine,” the White House said in a statement.

Earlier, spokespeople in the White House and State Department indicated the US would re-evaluate its approach to the peace process and its support for Israel in the United Nations in the wake of Netanyahu’s comments.

Netanyahu’s Likud party swept the national elections on Tuesday, taking nearly 25% of the vote, winning 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The landslide victory over the Zionist Union, which won 24 seats, places Netanyahu in a secure position to form a governing coalition.

Ties between Netanyahu and Obama reached historic lows earlier this month with the Israeli prime minister’s speech before a joint session of Congress in Washington in which he criticized a developing nuclear deal with Iran. The address was coordinated over the head of the White House, to the ire of Obama.

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