“I haven’t changed my policy,” newly reelected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his first interview since the election. “What has changed is the reality. I don’t want a one-state solution; I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change. I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.”
With those words, Bibi Netanyahu bowed to the inevitable: an open conflict with the United States he was bound to lose.
And that’s just what he was on the precipice of facing.
In response to his campaign pledge to oppose a two state solution, the US, and President Obama, responded swiftly. Their threat not to veto resolutions condemning Israel at the UN forced Netanyahu’s hand.
“The United States and this administration are deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Josh Earnest said at a press conference yesterday. “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.”
Further, Jen Psaki, the State Department’s spokeswoman, added, “The prime minister’s recent statements call into question his commitment to a two-state solution. We’re not going to prejudge what we would do if there was a UN action.”
Against this backdrop, Netanyahu had no choice but to back down from his supposedly iron clad promise.
Many, myself included, weren’t surprised by Netanyahu’s about face on the issue. Bibi has long been known as someone who has changed positions, flip-flopping frequently to achieve the optimal political outcome. It follows that it isn’t a surprise that he did what he needed to do to get reelected, especially considering that a large percentage of the right wing vote was supporting other, more conservative parties than his own Likud.
Having won a pronounced and convincing victory, Netanyahu recognized that a fight with the US would largely be a symbolic one. There’s almost no likelihood that a Palestinian state will be recognized, or even be discussed, anytime soon. In this way, a change in approach to his campaign pledge will have little to no repercussions in substance and it did him – and Israel – no harm for him to say that he is open to a two state solution should it become viable.
A number of outlets are reporting that the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu will become even further strained because of Netanyahu’s support for a single state during his campaign. This may be the case, but the truth is that it’s doubtful that their relationship could get any worse – there is very little the two can agree on. And with the deadline for the Iranian nuclear deal fast approaching, we should expect to hear more from Netanyahu on the subject in the coming days.
But that doesn’t change the fact that nothing of substance will change because of Netanyahu’s change in position, except that it avoids an immediate crisis with the US, Israel’s most important ally. For this, I surely cannot fault him.