The Cable

White House Slams Likud’s ‘Divisive’ Rhetoric After Netanyahu Surges to Victory

A day after the Likud party rolled to an unexpectedly easy victory the White House blasted it for how it won.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have sailed to an unexpectedly easy election victory, but the White House isn’t pleased with the tactics that his party, Likud, used to do it.

In the first sign Netanyahu’s win may do little to quell tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday accused Likud of using “divisive” anti-Arab rhetoric prior to the vote a day earlier. Earnest also said the president was “deeply concerned” about what he described Likud’s attempts to marginalize Israel’s minority Arabs, and added Obama still supports Palestinian statehood, a concept Netanyahu had backed but denounced days before the election.

“These are views the administration intends to convey directly to the Israelis,” Earnest said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu with congratulations.

Earnest also acknowledged the president would have to shift thinking on the Middle East peace process, now that Bibi has reversed his position on a Palestinian state. Still, Earnest said, a “two-state solution is the best way to address this conflict.”

Elsewhere in Washington, reactions to Likud’s surprising results were predictably split down U.S. party lines. Republicans, who like Netanyahu generally oppose a nuclear deal with Iran, offered boisterous congratulations. Democrats, meanwhile, some of whom seethed as Bibi criticized the administration’s Iran policy during a March 3 speech to lawmakers, offered measured support.

“Heartfelt congratulations to PM @Netanyahu. Looking forward to continuing the strong bond between #Israel & America,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who extended the speech invitation to the Israeli prime minister without first consulting the White House, tweeted Wednesday morning.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, however, was far less effusive.

“The people of Israel have spoken,” Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday. “I respect the results that they have produced. I think that what they have produced will be a continued lively discussion about the peace process.”

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

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

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