WASHINGTON (JTA) – American Jewish groups moved to calm continuing tensions between Jerusalem and Washington in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisive re-election this week.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League all released statements Thursday welcoming Netanyahu’s affirmation of support for a two-state solution.
Just days earlier, on the eve of the Israeli election, Netanyahu had appeared to renounce that support, saying that no Palestinian state would be established while he was prime minister. In interviews on Thursday, Netanyahu said that comment had been misunderstood.
He also sought to walk back his much-criticized 11th-hour appeal to supporters to counter the “droves” of Arab voters headed to the polls, saying he was trying to mobilize his own supporters – not suppress the Arab vote – and that he is the prime minister of “all Israel’s citizens.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPCA), noting that Netanyahu had “clearly reaffirmed” his support for a two-state solution, criticized the Obama administration for having “rebuffed” the prime minister’s efforts to put relations with the United States back on track.
“Unfortunately, administration spokespersons rebuffed the prime minister’s efforts to improve the understandings between Israel and the U.S.,” AIPAC said. “In contrast to their comments, we urge the administration to further strengthen ties with America’s most reliable and only truly democratic ally in the Middle East.”
The AIPAC statement was one of several from American Jewish groups quick to welcome Netanyahu’s clarifications on two states.
“We believe that the prime minister’s reaffirmations of his positions should be accepted, and, as the new government is formed the parties should work to enhance cooperation between the democratic allies and advance the special U.S.-Israel ties,” said a statement on Thursday from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also welcomed Netanyahu’s “clarification” in statements released Thursday.
“It is more important than ever to show respect and restraint to allow the prime minister to build his coalition and to publicly express his government’s policies regarding the Palestinians, the international community and other key issues,” the ADL said.
In interviews with MSNBC and National Public Radio this week, Netanyahu sought to contain some of the damage from his pre-election comments. Netanyahu emphasized that he continued to support a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict but that current circumstances don’t allow for it.
Obama administration spokespeople remained skeptical. Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, said “we can’t forget” about Netanyahu’s earlier statement to a right-wing Israeli news outlet that no Palestinian state would be established during his tenure. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said there may be “policy implications” for Netanyahu’s statements, echoing several unnamed administration sources who have been quoted in recent days suggesting that the White House may no longer shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.
“Words do matter, and that I think every world leader or everybody who is in a position to speak on behalf of their government understands that that’s the case, particularly when we’re talking about a matter as serious as this one,” Earnest said. He called Netanyahu’s call to counter the Arab vote “cynical” and a “transparent” bid to marginalize Arabs.
In an interview, Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the administration’s stubbornness “unbecoming.”
“To say we won’t forget,” Foxman said, “that’s nasty.”