Hours after the first exit polls showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party set to retain the leadership, US President Barack Obama indicated Tuesday he would work with any future Israeli premier.
Obama “remains committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and the president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, according to The New York Times.
The White House comment came after a bitter Israeli elections campaign and months of tensions between Netanyahu and Obama that culminated in a speech the prime minister gave before a joint session of Congress two weeks ago. The timing, content and lack of coordination with the Obama administration infuriated the White House.
Netanyahu’s declaration in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election that he wouldn’t allow the formation of a Palestinian state may further exacerbate strained relations with Washington should he end up as prime minister for a fourth term, as he seems likely.
On Israel’s Channel 2, diplomatic reporter Udi Segal predicted that a Netanyahu-led right-wing government could run into heavy difficulties with the Obama administration. He said the recent appointment by Obama of officials such as new Middle East coordinator Robert Malley, who has often been critical of Israel’s approach to the Palestinian peace process, underlined that possibility. Segal even intimated that the US might seek to impose peace terms on the sides.
US Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, congratulated Netanyahu on “what appears to be a victory today” in a statement issued late Tuesday evening. Echoing claims made in the run-up to the elections by Netanyahu himself, Cruz said his “electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team.”
In an interview with The Times of Israel before the elections, Netanyahu said that it was “not a tremendous leap of imagination” to claim that Obama wanted to see him out of office.
Cruz added that Netanyahu’s “heroic – even Churchillian – opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to US national security.”
Exit polls indicated that Netanyahu’s Likud party was set to win 27 or 28 seats in the Knesset, with the performance of other right-wing putting the incumbent prime minister in a solid position to form a so-called “national camp” government.