WASHINGTON (JTA) – U.S. President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his re-election and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution.
“President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the prime minister on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats,” the White House said on Thursday.
“The president emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” the statement said.
Obama administration officials have sharply criticized Netanyahu for his apparent retreat from a two-state solution just before Tuesday’s election. Obama and Netanyahu discussed the issue in the call, the statement said.
“The president and the prime minister agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the statement said. “The president reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine. “
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu walked back his repudiation of the possibility of Palestinian statehood during his tenure as prime minister, but officials say they will still closely watch his words and actions on the matter.
The call also addressed another area in which there are sharp differences, U.S.-backed nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers. Netanyahu opposes the talks, saying they are leading to a bad deal.
“On Iran, the president reiterated that the United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” the White House said.
Obama had come under criticism from congressional Republicans for not immediately congratulating Netanyahu when his reelection became apparent on Wednesday morning.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) had by Thursday garnered over 150 signatures from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to sign a letter congratulating Netanyahu.
“A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is critical to combating the rise of Islamic jihadists in the region,” DeSantis said in releasing the letter earlier Thursday, before Netanyahu and Obama spoke. “The White House has so far failed to recognize the prime minister’s success, and this silence has been deafening.”