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Washington frosty in remarks on Netanyahu’s reelection

US to ‘evaluate’ stance on peace after PM rejects Palestinian state; White House voices ‘deep concern’ over his comments on Arabs

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US Secretary of State John Kerry listens to opening statements on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, prior to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US Secretary of State John Kerry listens to opening statements on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, prior to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — The State Department said Wednesday that the US would “evaluate” its approach to the two-state solution in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of Palestinian statehood during his campaign for reelection.

En route to his decisive surprise victory in Tuesday’s vote, Netanyahu said Monday that he would not facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state so long as he remained in power, a statement that appeared to disavow sentiments he expressed in a seminal 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.

“Based on the prime minister’s comments, the US is in a position going forward in which we will be evaluating our approach with regards to how best to achieve a two-state solution,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during her press briefing.

She acknowledged that “the fact that [Netanyahu] has changed his opinion certainly has an impact” on US decision-making moving forward.

Although she asserted that the US still prefers direct negotiations toward an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, she did not promise that the US would continue to defend Israel against unilateral actions in support of Palestinian statehood in either the International Criminal Court or the United Nations.

“We are not going to get ahead of any decisions with regard to what the US would do during any vote at the United Nations Security Council,” Psaki warned, leaving open the possibility that the US could amend its long-held policy of using its Security Council veto power to block anti-Israel resolutions.

In addition to attempting to prosecute Israel for war crimes in the ICC, the Palestinian Authority has already tried once to pass a Security Council resolution that would unilaterally establish a Palestinian state. That vote failed even without the US veto.

Still, Psaki acknowledged that “no matter what government is formed we will continue our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel.”

Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu earlier Wednesday to congratulate him on his victory in what the State Department emphasized was a “brief” phone call that did not touch upon “substantive issues.”

President Barack Obama has yet to call Netanyahu, with whom he has butted heads repeatedly in the past six years, to offer similar congratulations. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that “the president in the coming days will also call Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Earnest denied that the president was dragging his feet, saying that the US leader traditionally waited for his congratulatory call until the leading candidate was tasked by the president with forming a coalition — a formality that is expected to be resolved in the coming days.

Earnest emphasized that “it continues to be the view of the president that a two-state solution is the best way to address those tensions” between Israel and the Palestinians.

“In the context of the recent election, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a change in his position, based on those comments the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation,” he added, echoing Psaki’s comments.

Earnest also expressed consternation over Netanyahu’s much-criticized Election Day rallying cry, in which the prime minister warned right-wing Israelis that Arabs were “coming in droves” to the polls.

“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by decisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said. “It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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