President Barack Obama’s supposed congratulatory call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, two days after the Likud leader triumphed in Israel’s elections, was actually a bitter 30-minute conversation, Israel’s two main TV news stations reported Friday night.
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 threat to reassess relations was reported widely this week and, according to the TV reports, was issued directly to Netanyahu on Thursday by Obama in the call.
During the 30-minute conversation, described as “difficult” by Channel 2, Obama made clear to the prime minister that the US was reconsidering its support for Israel at the UN as well as its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace in light of Netanyahu’s pre-election comments rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Channel 10 also said Netanyahu was adamant about keeping his ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, in the job despite heavy American criticism.
Netanyahu backtracked on his Monday no-to-Palestine remark earlier Thursday, saying he still supported a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but the White House swiftly dismissed his new, more moderate comments.
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.”
Asked whether Obama got a better understanding of Netanyahu’s position on a Palestinian state after talking with him, Earnest also said Friday: “That was not the result of the call.”
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.
The president’s skepticism and criticism were clearly evident during the Obama-Netanyahu conversation, according to Channel 2. Obama told Netanyahu the US was reconsidering its policies because Netanyahu had changed his position on Palestinian statehood. Netanyahu retorted that he hadn’t changed his position, still supporting a two state solution, but that the Middle East realities had changed in recent years. Obama responded that his clarification was insufficient, according to Channel 2.
The Channel 2 report said the US, in the least drastic scenario, might now refrain from vetoing resolutions relating to settlement building and Palestinian statehood. In a more drastic scenario, it might engage in drafting and support resolutions setting out the parameters for a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines and with a divided Jerusalem. In a still worse scenario, deemed unlikely, it might support sanctions against Israel for failure to comply with such resolutions.
Channel 2 also reported that Netanyahu and his wife Sara met with Sheldon Adelson and his wife in Tel Aviv on Friday night, the first such meeting since Netanyahu’s victory in the polls. Adelson is a fierce critic of Obama and the financier of Israel Hayom, a free pro-Netanyahu daily paper.
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.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.