US President Barack Obama congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, a day after the prime minister announced he had forged a new coalition government.
“President Obama looks forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the White House said, in a businesslike statement that followed fierce pre-election exchanges between the two men.
Immediately after the March 17 election, Obama administration officials had said they were “reevaluating” how best to pursue peace and defend Israel in international forums because of Netanyahu’s apparent retreat on the eve of balloting from embracing the two-state solution. Netanyahu told an Israeli website that he did not intend to preside over the establishment of a Palestinian state.
While Netanyahu said after the election that he did support a peaceful, “sustainable” two-state solution, administration officials made it clear that they were waiting to see if the new coalition would be willing to pursue a peace plan that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Unmoved by Netanyahu’s backtrack, Obama himself said that he took the prime minister “at his word.”
“As the President has emphasized, the United States places great importance on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” Thursday’s White House Press statement said.
“We also look forward to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including international negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the importance of pursuing a two-state solution,” the statement said.
The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has become increasingly strained as a result of the prime minister’s outspoken criticism of the ongoing US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The White House said Wednesday that Obama did not intend to meet with Netanyahu in the near future, and the president reportedly told Jewish leaders recently that he would not host the prime minister before the June 30 deadline for the Iran deal.
With less than two hours before his Wednesday night deadline, Netanyahu hammered out a deal with Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, securing him a 61-seat coalition and the narrowest of Knesset majorities.