Just one week following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close re-election victory, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough had some harsh words for the Israeli leader, calling his nation’s control of Palestinian land an “occupation.”
Speaking at an annual conference in Washington D.C. held by J Street, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, McDonough spoke about the rumored animosity between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s controversial comments during his campaign, and Israel’s continued foreign policy with Palestine.
“An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state,” said the Chief of Staff. He was referring to Israel’s control of the West Bank which they won after the Israeli-Palestinian War in 1967.
However, McDonough also reiterated White House talking points, assuring the United States will stay committed and friendly to Israel.
“No matter who leads Israel, America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waiver,” McDonough added.
McDonough also addressed the controversial comments made by Netanyahu, particularly those made during the final days of his campaign when polls showed Netanyahu losing his leadership. Among other things, Netanyahu said there would "never" be a two-state agreement with Palestine while he is leading Israel.
Speaking about Netanyahu’s comments on rescinding his belief of the creation of a Palestinian state, McDonough said, “We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the Prime Minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.
“As difficult as it is, the United States will never stop working for a two-state solution. A one-state solution would effectively end Israel’s future as a Jewish and Democratic state,” he added.
McDonough assured listeners that President Obama and the White House are fully aware of the tumultuous relationship that Israel has with a majority of its neighboring countries. However, he also said that the President will not stop negotiations with Iran, the longtime foe of Israel, despite Netanyahu’s objections to any deal made with that nation.
Netanyahu also created more controversy when he warned of Israeli Arabs “voting in droves” the day of the election. President Obama later revealed that he called Netanyahu and warned him not to speak like that.
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is best of Israel’s traditions,” said the President to the Huffington Post.
In his defense, the Prime Minister later spoke with MSNBC to clarify his campaign comments.
“I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change," Netanyahu said. "I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations who are committed to peace."