Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last minute efforts to save his fledgling campaign for a historic fourth term have widened the growing rift between the United States and its long-standing ally in the Middle East.
In an interview with a news website on Monday, Netanyahu officially abandoned the “two-state” solution to the Middle East crisis, effectively walking away from a peace plan that is backed by most Israelis, the United States, and the international community.
“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said. Netayanhu then replied “correct” when asked if he would not work to establish a Palestinian state if Israeli voters re-elect him on Tuesday.
Netanyahu’s comments come as polls show him trailing the more liberal Zionist Union coalition party and are seen by political analysts as an effort to appeal to pro-settlement voters who feel betrayed by the Netanyahu government. They also have the effect of distancing Israel from its American political allies at a time when disagreements between the two countries over negotiations to contain Iran’s nuclear program and Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress have already eroded political relations.
However, Netanyahu’s latest remarks aren’t just a blow to the Obama administration, which strongly supports a two-state solution. They reveal a divide between the Israeli prime minister and some of his closest allies in the Republican party.
The GOP — along with many Democrats — has staunchly backed Netanyahu since he came back to power in 2009, equating support for Israel with the policies and positions of the Netanyahu government. But most mainstream Republicans have also support a two-state peace solution.
Republican President George W. Bush was “the first American President to call for a Palestinian state” and invested his presidency in building support for a “two-state solution.” During a speech in 2008, Bush described that goal as “one of the highest priorities of my Presidency” and to this day the Republican platform calls for the establishment of “two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
“[Palestinians] should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state,” he told a joint session. “They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.”
At the time, Republican leaders eagerly echoed Netanyahu’s remarks and praised his commitment to peace.
“Israel has demonstrated time and again it seeks nothing more than peace … a peace agreed to by the two states and only the two states,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told a Jewish group in Cincinnati that year. “Like every prime minister before him, Prime Minister Netanyahu knows peace will require compromise – and he accepts that. He welcomes that.”
Now that the prime minister has turned his back on the compromise, Republicans who have championed Netanyahu’s policies may have to answer questions about the change-of-heart.
“American politicians who have aligned themselves with Netanyahu must now be asked where they stand in relation to the two-state solution,” Matt Duss, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview from the West Bank. He expressed concern that Netanyahu misled U.S. lawmakers about his true intentions for attaining peace with the Palestinians.
Boehner’s office did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment about Netanyahu’s opposition to the two-state solution.