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World

Benjamin Netanyahu And Washington

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are also tracking talk of a change in the relationship between the United States and Israel. They have, of course, been the closest of allies for decades. Talk of change grows out of a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last days of this week's election. He said he now opposes creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That's an idea he once supported and that the U.S. supports. Michael Crowley of Politico is tracking the response here in Washington. He's in our studios. Good morning.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. Why is this such a big deal?

CROWLEY: This is a big deal because in the late days of his campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected decades of U.S. policy which has called for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians - has rejected his own stated position of several years now and kind of defied what has become a strong international consensus in favor - this idea that there would be a Palestinian state. And it's kind of the platform on which all the efforts to strike some kind of peace deal or pursue the peace process have rested on for many years now - and not only appears to pull the plug on all of that but raises the question in a lot of people's minds whether he was ever truly sincere. Or he has just been kind of playing along with this for years and just hiding his true colors until now.

INSKEEP: And what is the administration - the Obama administration - saying about this?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, it's hard to imagine that the Obama administration could have gotten any more exasperated with Benjamin Netanyahu. They really, on some personal level, don't like and trust the guy. But here we are at a stage where I think the relationship is even worse, and the distrust has even grown. And despite all that, there are certain sacrosanct parts of the U.S.-Israel relationship. For instance, our financial aid, our military aid, military cooperation to protect Israel's security, the Iron Dome missile defense system is basically still untouchable and not going to be changed.

INSKEEP: That's going to continue.

CROWLEY: That's going to continue. But the place where I think we may see change - and administration officials are saying and told me in my reporting yesterday that they are re-examining their plans - is the degree to which Israel can count on the U.S. to essentially have its back in international forums, particularly the United Nations and in general in international debates where other countries are pressuring Israel to change its behavior and insisting on an acceptance of that two-state solution. Just to give you one example - the U.S. vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel's settlement building in 2011. America was the only one of 15 Security Council members to oppose that resolution. So we really do bail Israel out sometimes in these situations.

INSKEEP: Now, Benjamin Netanyahu has been backing off the idea of a Palestinian state for a while, we should clarify. In fact, in an interview on this program last year, he told us Israel must keep what he called security control on the West Bank, the Palestinian areas, because Israel's retreat from another Palestinian area, the Gaza Strip, had not worked out at all. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And we've had to go to three military operations in these ensuing seven years. We can't just replicate that in the West Bank.

INSKEEP: So the Palestinians have to accept they just cannot have a fully sovereign entity. They will have to live with Israeli troops.

NETANYAHU: I think we have to differentiate between political sovereignty and security arrangements, just as you do at in other countries that I mentioned.

INSKEEP: So he was already talking about a less-than-sovereign Palestinian entity. What has really changed here? Is it just that Netanyahu explicitly said what was on his mind during the campaign?

CROWLEY: Yeah. I think that there is a school thought that says, hey, everybody, this shouldn't have been a big secret to you. He clearly - to the extent that he was ever saying he would accept a two-state solution. It was very grudging. It was loaded with so many conditions that it was meaningless. But it does seem to have been different in degree, different in tone.

And, you know, what administration officials said to me yesterday was there was - you know, there were several statements over the course of this campaign that paint a undeniable picture to them. In addition to rejecting the idea that he would allow a Palestinian state on his watch, he also appeared to admit to approving settlement construction when in his prior stint as prime minister in the 1990s designed to split off Palestinian areas around Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

In other words, in their interpretation, he was essentially saying, I approved these settlements to undermine the possibility of a peace process. So I think for the Obama White House, there's maybe been a kind of a tipping point where they say, it's really clear now. We're not going to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is basically hopeless. But there are people who say this is who he's been all along. And as one former Obama official said to me, he's showing his true colors.

INSKEEP: Is Israel more isolated today because of that remark?

CROWLEY: Yes, I think, undoubtedly. And it's not just the response of the Obama administration. The Europeans are growing very impatient. There's going to be a lot of pressure coming from around the world.

INSKEEP: OK. Michael Crowley of Politico. Thanks very much for coming by today.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: He's been reporting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and statements he made during his re-election campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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