Netanyahu can backpedal all he wants, but now it is clear even to his biggest champions that he is no longer interested in the two-state solution. Now it’s up to the White House to take a stand.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s landslide election victory on Tuesday stunned even the biggest pessimists. What looked like a possible upset turned very quickly into an easy win for the incumbent, giving his Likud party 30 seats in the upcoming Knesset. Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp, Netanyahu’s main opposition, won only 24 seats.
Like most other major political figures, Netanyahu said nothing about the occupation or the future of the peace process with the Palestinians throughout his campaign. Until March 16, one day before the election, when it seemed as though Herzog might actually defeat the prime minister. Netanyahu, who has spent the last five years trying to convince the world that he supports the two-state solution, told Israeli news website NRG that if he were to be reelected, he would never allow a Palestinian state to be created. He also explicitly disavowed his 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, in which he voiced unequivocal support for the two-state solution.
“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told NRG, claiming that only the Right is “realistic” when it comes to security issues. Earlier that day, Bibi visited the East Jerusalem settlement Har Homa, which he claimed he established in order to “stop Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.”
On Thursday, however, Netanyahu was singing a different tune. In an interview with MSNBC, the prime minister backtracked, reiterating his support for a two-state solution, while claiming that “circumstances have to change for that to happen.” He was clearly walking back in response to the outrage of the Obama administration.
But the fact is that when it comes to his support for a two-state solution — or any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted. The man has changed his mind about what the international community long ago agreed is the only viable solution to the conflict so many times that it is difficult to keep count.
For instance, a video from 2001 shows Netanyahu visiting a family in the settlements. There, he tells them that he purposefully deceived President Clinton into believing he was helping implement the Oslo Accords during his first term as prime minister, by making minor withdrawals from the occupied territories, all the while actually entrenching the occupation.
WATCH: Netanyahu talks about destroying Oslo process:
In 2008, Netanyahu changed his tune once more, this time calling for “economic peace” with the Palestinians that would not be based on allowing them to establish a state. Just months before he was elected to his second term as prime minister, Netanyahu called for weaving “economic peace alongside a political process” that would seek to strengthen moderate parts of the Palestinian economy, which would create an incentive for peace among ordinary Palestinians. A hundred days into his second term, however, there was almost no progress on the economic peace front, and the plan was ditched very soon after.
The Bar Ilan speech in 2009 was hailed as a turning point for Netanyahu. For the first time, he openly endorsed the principle of a (demilitarized) Palestinian state alongside Israel. President Obama welcomed Netanyahu’s proposal, although the Palestinian Authority immediately rejected the plan as a non-starter, since it barely touched on many of the crucial aspects for the formation of a Palestinian state.
WATCH: Netanyahu’s 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University:
Since 2009, the United States has seen through two failed peace processes between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Through it all, Netanyahu reiterated his ostensible support for a two-state solution, although in reality he has done just about everything he could to sabotage its coming to fruition.
In July 2014, however, it seemed as though Netanyahu was starting to show signs that he was no longer interested in even paying lip service to the idea of two states. “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the Jordan River,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement, just as Operation Protective Edge was under way.
It should have always been clear that Netanyahu was never serious about the two-state solution, but rather about using it as a tool that serves him in the short run, most often used to try and convince the White House (and perhaps even his biggest allies in AIPAC) that he was serious about an agreement.
Earlier on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected Netanyahu’s clarifications to MSNBC, saying that “We can’t forget about those comments… and we believe he changed his position.” Whether it took the White House a few years to catch on, or whether they decided to simply ignore Netanyahu’s policies past and present is unclear. But it is clear that if the Obama administration wants to stop bleeding credibility on the Israel-Palestine issue, it is going to have to take a stand against Netanyahu.