Obama Nixes Netanyahu Climbdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

McCain Tells President to Get Over “Temper Tantrum”

In a fresh rebuke to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin 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.

Obama described his phone conversation with Netanyahu, two days after the latter’s re-election.

“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.”

“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.

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.

Senator John McCain came to Netanyahu’s defense on Sunday, accusing Obama of throwing a “temper tantrum” over the Israeli leader’s comments.

McCain, asked on CNN if U.S.-Israel relations were at a dangerous point, said, “I think that’s up to the president of the United States.”

“The president should get over it,” McCain said. “Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President.

“The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion.”

In Israel, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu ally, acknowledged the problem but pointed the finger at Washington for failing to understand the prime minister’s position.

“If the Americans are finding it difficult to understand or accept our clarifications [on Palestinian statehood], this is certainly worrying and requires tending to,” he told Israel Radio. “He (Netanyahu) didn’t say this [statehood] is ‘unacceptable’. He said reality has changed.”

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence aligned with the center-left Zionist Camp, said Israel would “pay a price” for Netanyahu’s remarks on statehood, which had caused “fury” in Washington.

“I’m not among those who panic: I don’t think the United States will impose sanctions on Israel. But I see places in which it will go much harder for us,” said Yadlin, who returned a day earlier from a visit to the U.S. capital. “Firstly, they used a word that they haven’t used since 1975 — ‘reassessment’, a reassessment of relations.”

“The administration is putting everything on the table except security assistance — and this will allow Netanyahu time to walk back his comments more credibly,” said Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel. “I would also not expect any decisions before the situation with respect to the Iran negotiations becomes clearer.”