White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that the Obama administration will continue to "reevaluate" its relationship with Israel despite a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was committed to a Palestinian state.
"What is apparent is that in the context of a campaign while he was the sitting prime minister of Israel, he walked back from commitments Israel had previously made to a two-state solution," Earnest said. "And so because of what he has articulated and because of his pretty clear indication that he is prepared to withdraw from very serious commitments that Israel has previously made to a two-state solution, that does and has prompted us to reevaluate our approach to this matter."
Asked to identify an example of how President Obama could change his policy towards Israel, Earnest mentioned that the United Stats "has repeatedly intervened" in debates "at the UN and other places" in favor of Israel, and that those interventions could end.
"I'm not suggesting that any policy decisions have been made at this point. I don't want to leave you with that impression," Earnest said. "It has promoted us to reevaluate the strategy that we will put in place to make those decisions. And that is something that we will do moving forward."
The comments Obama found so offensive came in an interview Netanyahu gave Monday where he told an Israeli news organization, "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel. There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders."
Asked directly if that meant a Palestinian state could not be formed as long as he was prime minister, Netanyahu said, "Indeed."
But then on Thursday, Netnayahu told NBC News, "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.”
"I haven’t changed my policy," Netanyahu insisted. "What has changed is the reality.”
But Earnest insisted that the White House's interpretation of Netanyahu's Monday interview was important than Netanyahu's assurances Thursday. "Words matter," Earnest said. "And that is certainly true in this instance and I know very well that the Israeli prime minister is aware of that. And he was talking about something that even he would acknowledge is a very important issue, an issue that has serious consequences for the country that he leads."
Asked directly why, if words matter, that the White House was choosing to value Monday's words more than Thursday's, Earnest replied, "The reason for that is simply that for years Prime Minister Netanyahu and his predecessors have been committed to a two-state solution and to this approach. And because of his comments days before the election it does raise questions about his commitment to that solution."
"The fact that his commitment to this issue has understandably called into question it raises questions about our approach at least in the minds of policy makers inside the administration," Earnest continued. "And that is why we are going to evaluate our approach to this matter moving forward."
Asked separately when Obama would be calling Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory, Earnest said White House officials were working to schedule the call as early as today, and that Obama was likely to raise the issue of Netanyahu's campaign rhetoric during the call.