The Cable

White House Not Impressed by Netanyahu’s Apology Tour

The White House remains wary, and said Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments will not be forgotten soon.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11:  White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough arrives at a House Democratic Caucus meeting December 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Both houses of Congress are working to avoid a government shutdown at midnight this evening as Republican efforts to pass an omnibus funding bill stalled earlier this afternoon.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough arrives at a House Democratic Caucus meeting December 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Both houses of Congress are working to avoid a government shutdown at midnight this evening as Republican efforts to pass an omnibus funding bill stalled earlier this afternoon. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Israel’s prime minister continued his apology tour Monday, telling Israeli Arabs he didn’t mean to deploy fearmongering tactics on Election Day by reversing his earlier commitment to a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state. But the White House remains wary, and said Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments will not be forgotten soon.

“We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said at a Washington conference organized by J Street, a dovish pro-Israel lobbying organization. “After the election, the prime minister says he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution.”

“Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children,” he added.

McDonough’s speech came hours after Netanyahu assembled a meeting of minority leaders in Israel to apologize for his pre-election promise to never allow for the creation of a Palestinian state and retail politicking warning that “Arabs are voting in droves.”

“I know that the things I said a few days ago hurt some citizens in Israel, the Arab Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This was not my intention and I am sorry.”

Netanyahu’s first major walkback occurred on Thursday, when he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he does in fact want a “peaceful” two-state solution, “but for that, circumstances have to change.”

McDonough reiterated the White House’s position that the United States would “re-evaluate our approach to the peace process” — a subtle threat that Washington would consider taking up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations. Jerusalem has staunchly opposed the potential move.

The president’s right-hand man also vowed that the United States “would never support” a one-state solution that continues the indefinite occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he said. McDonough underscored the benefits of a comprehensive peace agreement to “deal a knockout blow” to efforts to isolate and sanction Israel at the U.N. and other forums.

Addressing the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, McDonough lashed back at a recent congressional letter by 47 Republicans that was sent to Iran’s supreme leader, warning of Congress’s ability to undercut any deal that Obama might offer.

“We have to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” McDonough told the liberal audience, which audibly booed the GOP letter.

Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce released another letter Monday — one that was signed by 367 Democrats and Republicans who warned of “grave and urgent issues” related to negotiations to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. The March 20 letter to Obama expressed concern about the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and Tehran’s lack of cooperation so far with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

McDonough vowed that the United States will seek to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But, at the same time, he maintained that the White House will veto legislative efforts to interfere with ongoing negotiations.

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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