Netanyahu's Palestinian backtrack fails to mollify US: analysts


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on March 18, 2015 following his Likud party's victory in Israel's general election Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on March 18, 2015 following his Likud party's victory in Israel's general election


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to tone down anti-Palestinian rhetoric in order to mend ties with a furious White House but analysts say he will have to do more.
The White House has warned that it might withdraw crucial diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, even as Netanyahu denied he had ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state.
But, as a senior Israeli official said Friday, ties between the two long-standing allies are extremely strong and will continue that way.
On Monday, the day before he was reelected, Netanyahu was asked if it were true that there would be no Palestinian state were he to remain in office.
"Indeed," he said, later adding that a two-state solution was now irrelevant because the "reality has changed."
But by Thursday, he was emphatically denying having set himself in opposition to decades of US policy by going back on his commitment to Palestinian statehood.
"I said that the conditions for that, today, are not achievable," Netanyahu in a round of remarks to US media.
"I haven’t changed my policy. What has changed is the reality. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change."
But in Washington, an administration official said President Barack Obama told Netanyahu "we will need to reassess our options following the prime minister's new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution."
"They also discussed Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments about Israeli Arabs," the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to his comments about Israeli Arabs voting in "droves."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said "steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome.
"Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution. That means we need to reevaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward."
Next government's shape crucial
Experts in Israel and the United States say Washington's next step will depend on the shape of the government Netanyahu forms and his actions on settlements.
"If you have a right-dominated coalition... and if there isn't some kind of settlement freeze, then we are looking at an administration that will not take active measures against Israel but will certainly not help Israel in the way it usually does," political scientist Jonathan Rynhold told AFP.
In particular, he mentioned the traditional veto by permanent UN Security Council member the United States on resolutions deemed hostile to the Jewish state.
Former Obama Middle East strategist Dennis Ross said the administration's next step would take some time to become clear.
"I would wait until there are some discussions before we leap to conclusions about what exactly the White House is feeling," he told Israeli public radio Friday.
"Obviously some of this is likely to be affected by the government that is ultimately formed," he added.
"We know that the prime minister is going to be the same prime minister, the question is what's the shape of his government and what are his policy guidelines going to be."
Netanyahu has said he will build a coalition with other rightists, centre-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Under Israel's electoral system, the person chosen as prime minister is not necessarily the leader of the party that gains most seats but whoever can build a coalition commanding a majority of at least 61 seats.
Robbie Sabel, a former member of Israel's UN delegation, said that whatever the new government's makeup, the US-educated Netanyahu would go his own way on relations with Washington.
"My experience is that Netanyahu will do this by himself and won't involve his coalition partners," he told AFP.
Mark Heller, a political analyst at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies said that the US use of its UN veto was likely to be nuanced.
"I would guess that they'll want to send some signals rather than fundamentally change the situation," he told AFP.
In the meantime, as Israeli defence ministry strategic affairs director Amos Gilad said Friday, "defence relations continue full strength. Everything concerning the security dialogue is deep, broad and intensive.
"These ties will continue."

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