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Obama Calls Netanyahu, Reaffirms Two-State Solution

by VOA News March 19, 2015

President Barack Obama telephoned his congratulations to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, two days after the prime minister was reelected to a fourth term.

A White House statement says Obama stressed the importance the U.S. puts on its close military and security cooperation with Israel.

He also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

But a U.S. official said Obama also told the prime minister that the administration will have to "reassess" its policies toward Israel after Netanyahu appeared to backtrack on his support for a two-state solution.

Earlier Thursday, the Israeli prime minister rejected charges that he backtracked from his support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu raised diplomatic eyebrows the day before this week's Israeli parliamentary election when he said there will be no two-state solution under his watch.

But on Thursday, the prime minister told the U.S. television network MSNBC that he has not retracted his long-term policy that Jewish and Palestinian states can exist side-by-side.

'I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change," he told MSNBC.

"If you want to get peace, you've got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel."

Netanyahu said what he meant by his controversial pre-election comment was that the reality has changed since he endorsed two states during a speech six years ago, and that conditions are not ripe at this time. He said the Palestinian Authority refuses to recognize a Jewish state and Hamas militants now control Gaza.

Israel's continued settlement activity in the Palestinian territories and Netanyahu's outspoken opposition to nuclear talks with Iran have soured Israel's traditionally close ties with the United States.

But the prime minister said Thursday the U.S. and Israel are each other's greatest allies and have no choice but to work together.

Israel's election was viewed closely regarding its impact on U.S.-Israeli relations. Differences on key issues, including the Iran nuclear negotiations and stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, have triggered tensions between the two governments.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu gave an impassioned speech before the U.S. Congress against an Iran nuclear deal being negotiated by the U.S. and five other world powers. He also said just before the polls opened Tuesday he would never support a Palestinian state, reversing a position he had held during his administration as Israel and the Palestinians conducted peace talks that eventually broke down.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he does not think the Israeli government will be serious about achieving a political solution that will lead to the creation of two states.

Abbas also said the Palestinians will continue to seek 'international legitimacy,' a reference to their attempt to achieve statehood through the United Nations and other international bodies.

Netanyahu's conservative Likud party won a surprisingly easy victory over the liberal Zionist Union party in Tuesday's parliamentary election. Pre-election polls showed the race to be much closer.

A U.N. spokesperson, speaking on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said it will be incumbent on the new Israeli government to create the conditions leading to a final peace deal with the Palestinians. He said Israel should take steps including a cessation of illegal settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a 'mutually beneficial relationship' and on re-launching the Middle East peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu on Wednesday to congratulate him on the victory.

Portions of this report are from AP, and some information is from AFP and Reuters.

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