US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said on Sunday that Washington had not yet made a decision about changing its policy regarding Israel, but warned that recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the peace process were “confusing” and raised doubts about Israel’s true intentions.
“I can’t deny that we have serious worries that we are dealing with concerning some of the things that were said at the end of the elections,” Shaprio said in an interview with Army Radio. “One of them is the two states for two people solution.”
Shapiro was referring to comments Netanyahu made a day before last Tuesday’s national elections in which the Israeli leader declared he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Although Netanyahu, who secured a strong victory in the elections, later backtracked from the comments by declaring he still supports a two-state solution, the US has responded harshly to the comments, saying it will re-evaluate how it approaches the peace process.
President Barack 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.”
Officials have also indicated the US may no longer shield Israel at the United Nations.
“At the very least it is confusing and raises questions about Israel’s real intentions,” Shapiro said, and revealed that he had closely watched the elections as results came in, staying up until early the following morning.
Shapiro, who spoke in Hebrew throughout the interview, said that if negotiations no longer seem viable then the US would look at what other steps could be taken to advance toward a two-state peace deal.
However, he stressed that no decisions have been taken yet regarding a change in policy at the United Nations that might see the US no longer stand in the way of the international body recognizing a Palestinian state.
Shapiro told Israel Radio Sunday morning regarding Washington’s defense of Israel at the UN that “we always prefer direct negotiations, we always prefer and still understand that it is not possible to impose from the outside a solution of two states for two peoples and an end to this conflict.” He noted, however, in a different part of the interview, that “Israel’s support for a two-state solution is a critical tool” for the US to defend Israel internationally.
He also said another trip by Obama to Israel was not out of the question, downplaying a reported nadir in ties between Washington and Jerusalem. Obama visited Israel in March 2013.
“There are a lot of ideas and we will weigh the situation,” he said and noted that he is in daily contact with Israeli officials. “We have not given up on the idea of two states for two people.”
Shapiro assured that the close intelligence and economic ties between the US and Israel will continue as they have in the past and that the Obama administration still looked toward cooperation with Netanyahu.
“We expect to work with his government after it is set up,” he said, and recalled that Israel’s peace policy until the elections had always been based on the two states for two people formula.
Obama told The Huffington Post that the US would maintain cooperation with the Israeli government on military and intelligence operations, but would not say whether the US would continue to block Palestinian efforts to secure statehood via the United Nations.
He said he had told the Likud leader when they spoke on Thursday, “It is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”
According to Israeli media, the president’s congratulatory phone call to Netanyahu was chilly in nature and Obama made it 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.
Shapiro rejected suggestions that the furor over Netanyahu’s election comments on the two-state solution was just a way to divert attention from talks with Iran over its nuclear program, which are heading toward a March 31 deadline with no sign of deal in sight.
Western powers are negotiating with Iran to secure an arrangement that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Shapiro reiterated that the US would not allow Iran to produce atomic weapons and that the main reason an agreement had not yet been reached was because, “Iran has not yet taken some difficult decisions.”
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 with the White House left out of the loop, to the ire of Obama.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.