White House: Looking to next Israeli government to recommit to two states

Knesset

The Knesset.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration said it would look to the new Israeli government to recommit itself to the two-state solution.

“We will look to the next Israeli government to match words with actions and policies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution,” Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, said Monday at the annual conference of J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group.

McDonough’s comment, made to a friendly audience, was the first sign that the White House seemed ready at some point to put behind it Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preelection comments last week repudiating a two-state solution.

McDonough made clear that Netanyahu’s comments were still an irritant to the relationship between the governments.

“In 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly endorsed a two-state solution,” he said.

“Over the course of President Obama’s administration, most recently with the tireless efforts of Secretary [John] Kerry, the United States has expended tremendous energy in pursuit of this goal,” McDonough said. “That is why the prime minister’s comments on the eve of the election — in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow-up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister — were so troubling.”

McDonough noted that Netanyahu after winning the election attempted to explain that he was referring to current circumstances when he said two states would not happen, not rejecting two states as an outcome.

“For many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution,” he said. “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”

For this reason, McDonough said, Obama was reevaluating “how we pursue the cause of peace.”

Obama administration officials told the media, anonymously, that one option they are considering in the absence of a peace process is presenting the parameters of a final deal and, McDonough said, “in the end, we know what a peace agreement should look like.”

“The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” he said. “Each state needs secure and recognized borders, and there must be robust provisions that safeguard Israel’s security. An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”

McDonough said the difference over two states would not affect the security relationship.

“Today, our security, military and intelligence cooperation is stronger than it’s ever been, and that’s not going to change,” he said.