Obama Congratulates Netanyahu But Warns About Two-State Solution

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Updated: March 19, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid new tensions between two allies, President Barack Obama on Thursday called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his election victory two days ago, relieving pressure from critics for not embracing the Israeli leader’s success sooner.

The call came as the White House continued to push back against Netanyahu’s pre-election rejection of a two-state solution to Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The White House said in a statement that Obama stressed the United States’ close security cooperation with Israel, but also emphasized the U.S. commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel.

On another sensitive subject, Obama addressed negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program and said he was focused on a deal that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the White House said. Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner had mocked the Obama administration’s chilly reaction to the Israeli prime minister’s election victory.

Asked by a reporter about the administration lukewarm response to Netanyahu’s win, Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “Lukewarm?” and laughed heartily.

Since Netanyahu’s election triumph this week, the White House has said the U.S. will have to reconsider its approach to Mideast peace given the prime minister’s hard veer to the right in the campaign. On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest specifically mentioned that in the past the U.S. has repeatedly cited the goal of creating a Palestinian state when it has intervened on behalf of Israel in the United Nations.

In an interview Thursday with MSNBC, Netanyahu appeared to walk back from his earlier remarks, saying he could support a demilitarized Palestinian state if conditions in the region change.

Earnest said Netanyahu’s earlier comment, however, “raises questions about his commitment to a two-state solution.”

Earnest also criticized anti-Arab rhetoric used by Netanyahu’s party in the lead-up to the election as a “cynical election day tactic (that) was a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab-Israeli votes.”

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough will give a speech Monday to a major advocacy group that opposes Netanyahu.

McDonough’s address to the J Street group indicates that the administration will seek to strengthen voices that challenge Netanyahu.

J Street is an Israel advocacy group that often criticizes the Israeli government — and especially Netanyahu. The group called Netanyahu’s election victory a “deep disappointment” and accused him of winning by shredding U.S. bipartisanship on Israel and “preying on fear and racism at home.”


Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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