A growing number of Democrats are openly criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for disavowing the two-state solution, widening the growing rift between the Israeli government and American lawmakers in a relationship that has long been considered bipartisan and sacrosanct.
Speaking during a press gaggle on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also openly chided Netanyahu’s election day texts warning voters that “Arab voters are going to the polls in droves.”
“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said. “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”
He reiterated the administration’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — a plan that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Earnest said. “Based on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments, the United States will reevaluate our position and the path forward in this situation.”
Senior Democrats in Congress quickly echoed the administration’s concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, described Netanyahu’s reversal on the two-state approach as “campaign rhetoric” and said “Israel must pursue a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
The prime minister, who has secured approximately 30 seats in Israel’s Knesset for his Likud party and is expected to form a coalition government in which he will likely remain the nation’s prime minister for a historic fourth term, had endorsed the approach in 2009 and again before a speech to Congress in 2011. But just one day before the election, Netanyahu told a news website,“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 pledged that one would not be established on his watch.
Appearing on MSNBC’s The Last Word on Tuesday, George Mitchell, a former senate majority leader and President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East from 2009 to 2011, predicted that Netanyahu switched positions out of a desperate desire to win. “The fact that he did it on the last day probably suggests that he wanted to win without it, but felt it was necessary,” he said. Mitchell added that Arab countries generally didn’t believe Netanyahu when he first publicly embraced the two state solution, pointing to his support for expanding Israeli settlements in the disputed territories and his demands of the Palestinians.
“He won the election but may have created a longer term problem,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), who appeared on MSNBC’s The Cycle, added. “It is hard to see what the path forward is because the whole peace process has been organized around reaching for that two-state solution and doing it in a way that provided solid security for Israel.”
Republicans, meanwhile, congratulated Netanyahu’s re-election without commenting on his change of heart or anti-Arab rhetoric, generally describing the Israeli leader as a “strong ally and friend.” The Republican platform endorses a two state solution and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) publicly called for its adoption.
“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,” Boehner told a Jewish group in Cincinnati in 2011. “Like every prime minister before him, Prime Minister Netanyahu knows peace will require compromise – and he accepts that. He welcomes that.” But on Wednesday, Boehner sent his “heartfelt congratulations” to Netanyahu via Twitter without mentioning the reversal.
At least one Democrat sought to excuse Netanyahu’s remarks. Appearing on CNN, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee , suggested that the Israeli leader changed his words, but not his mouth. “I think that in the rhetoric and in the heat of campaigns, there are lots of things that are said and I think when they get shaken out, I think we’ll find pretty much to not much has changed,” he said. “I’m not worried about what may or may not have been said in campaign rhetoric.”