March 23, 2015 | Quote

Israeli ambassador tells U.S. audience Netanyahu didn’t change position on two-state solution

What to make of Netanyahu’s words — is he a flip-flopper or being taken out of context?

Ultimately, it’s hard to know his true position. Jonathan Schanzer, Foundation for Defense of Democracies vice president for research and author of books on the conflict, offered several notes of context.

First, and perhaps most importantly, Netanyahu’s support for the two-state solution has always been tepid, Schanzer said. In his first term that started in 1997, he opposed Palestinian statehood. The switch came at the university speech in 2009, and he reaffirmed in October 2014 his support for “a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground” during a visit with Obama at the White House.

For him to say now, unequivocally, that there would be no Palestinian state during his time in office may seem to indicate that he is against it on principle, Schanzer said, “but he didn’t say there would never be a two-state solution.”

To Schanzer, that is a fine distinction. Netanyahu always seemed reluctant to be part of the peace talks brokered by the United States, but he showed up anyway, Schanzer said. For him to acknowledge how poorly the talks have gone, and how unlikely they are to improve given the dwindling tenures of all leaders involved, “is actually a moment of honesty,” he said.

Still, the potentially candid assessment had convenient timing, as Netanyahu spent his final days of campaigning trying to consolidate Israel’s right-wing voters, who have several political party options unlike the United States. It was also in the election’s final days when Netanyahu warned in a video that Arab-Israelis were voting “in droves” and could threaten conservative rule, which critics saw as steeped in race-mongering.

“The point is to say this was certainly done in the heat of the campaign,” Schanzer said. “But I also believe that this does not discount the idea of a two-state solution moving forward permanently.”

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Israel Palestinian Politics