While the White House on Monday appeared to accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to the Israeli Arab community for comments he made during the recent election campaign, the US State Department said it wants to see actions, not words.
Though he admitted he hadn’t heard Netanyahu’s apology, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that the attempt to make amends was a step in the right direction.
“We made pretty clear the serious concerns we had with those comments,” he said referring to Netanyahu’s statements on Israel’s election day when he warned that Arab voters had gone out “in droves” to the ballots on buses funded by foreign donors. “If that’s what he said it certainly seems appropriate for him to make that acknowledgement.”
Earlier on Monday Netanyahu met with Arab leaders in Jerusalem and told them he regretted the statements that he made in a video clip published as Israelis were voting in general elections on March 17.
The remarks during the elections drew sharp condemnations from Israelis across the political spectrum, including President Reuven Rivlin, as well as from the White House.
“I know the things I said several days ago offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt the Arab citizens,” Netanyahu told representatives of the Arab community at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. “This was never my intent. I apologize for this.”
However, State Department Spokesperson Mary Harf stressed that Netanyahu’s sincerity would be measured by his future actions, not just his words. Harf indicated that the Netanyahu would need to impress not just with his regret on the Arab voters statement but also on his declaration the day before the election that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state while he was still in office, if reelected.
“I think we’ve made clear our position on those comments,” she said during a press briefing. “Given his statements prior to the election, it’s going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing, when it comes to negotiations, that those are possible.”
Establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is central to the two-state solution that has been at the core of US policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“So we are evaluating what’s taking place,” Harf continued. “I think what we’re looking for now are actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution, not more words. So that’s what we’ll be looking for.”
When pressed on whether or not the recent apology from Netanyahu, along with his post-election declaration that he still supports the two-state solution, was enough to satisfy the state department, Harf said the matter was still unclear.
“I think it’s just understandably confusing for people about which of his comments to believe,” she said. “He said diametrically opposing things in the matter of a week, so which is his actual policy? That’s why what we said is words aren’t enough at this point. What we need to see are actions, actions and policies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to the peace process.”
“I think we just don’t know what to believe at this point,” Harf continued. “What I think is confusing is that when you say things, words matter. And if you say something different two days later…why was one said at one time and why was something different said after the election? Who knows? We can’t read his mind. So what we’re looking for now are actions and policies. He’s forming a government. We’re obviously – we’ll be in touch with him as he does so. And that’s why what we need to see now is action and not more words.
“At this point what we need to see are actions and policies that indicate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.”
Netanyahu’s apology was met with enthusiastic applause from the Arab representatives at the Jerusalem meeting, several of whom embraced him after the statement.
However, the Joint (Arab) List, which swept into the Knesset with 13 seats last week, rejected Netanyahu’s overture and said it will continue to campaign on behalf of the Arab community, Channel 2 reported.
According to a statement from the Joint (Arab) List, “The racism of Netanyahu and his government will not end with the inciting statement that he distributed during the elections.