WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a fresh rebuke to Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama said the Israeli leader’s pre-election disavowal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it “hard to find a path” toward serious negotiations to resolve the issue.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama also scolded Netanyahu over his remarks about Arab Israelis voting, making clear that the deep rift in relations between Israel and the United States, its most important ally, is not ending anytime soon.
In the interview, conducted on Friday and published on Saturday, Obama described his Thursday phone call with Netanyahu, two days after the Israeli leader was re-elected.
“I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic,” Obama said, in his first public comments on the issue.
“And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”
The worst crisis in decades in U.S.-Israeli relations was worsened by Netanyahu’s declaration just before Tuesday’s election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Netanyahu sought on Thursday to backtrack from that.
“Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” said Obama, whose administration sponsored failed talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state that would exist peacefully side-by-side with Israel.
The White House had said after Obama’s call on Thursday that the president had told Netanyahu Washington would “reassess” its options on U.S.-Israel relations and Middle East diplomacy.
In the interview, Obama also expressed dismay over Netanyahu’s Election Day warning to his supporters about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls “in droves.”
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions, that although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” Obama said.
Obama underscored his support for Israel’s security, saying he would make sure that military and intelligence cooperation continues in order to keep the Israeli people safe.
“But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region,” Obama said, referring to the current state of affairs with the Palestinians.
The United States provides $3 billion in military aid annually.
Netanyahu’s tense relations with Obama have been strained over U.S. efforts to reach an international agreement with Iran to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. Ties worsened when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to the U.S. Congress two weeks before the Israeli election to criticize Obama’s quest for such a deal. Democrats assailed the speech as an insult to the presidency and a breach of protocol.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry