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Netanyahu backtracks from Palestinian state opposition

Benjamin Netanyahu says in a TV interview Thursday that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood — if conditions in the region improve.AP/File

JERUSALEM — Days after winning re-election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday backtracked from hard-line statements against the establishment of a Palestinian state in an apparent effort to contain a diplomatic backlash.

In the closing days of his campaign, Netanyahu said there could be no Palestinian state while regional violence and chaos persist — conditions that could rule out progress on the issue for many years. The comments, aimed at appealing to his nationalistic voter base, angered the Obama administration, which views a two-state solution as a top foreign policy priority.

Netanyahu said in a TV interview Thursday that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood — if conditions in the region improve. He said he remained committed to the vision first spelled out in landmark 2009 speech at Israel’s Bar Ilan University.


‘‘I haven’t changed my policy,’’ he said. ‘‘I never retracted my speech.’’

At the time, he said he would agree to a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as the Jewish homeland. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to offer such recognition, and last year formed a unity government backed by the Hamas militant group. Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

In the interview, Netanyahu also pointed to the presence of hostile Islamic groups across the region and said that any captured territory handed over to Abbas would be taken over by militants. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, shortly after Israeli withdrew.

‘‘I don’t want a one state solution, I want a sustainable peaceful two state solution but for that circumstances have to change,’’ Netanyahu said. ‘‘And every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.’’

A day before the election Netanyahu told the nrg news website that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch because of the current climate in the region.


‘‘Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time,’’ he said in the video interview. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied, ‘‘Indeed.’’

The remarks drew heavy criticism from Washington, which said Wednesday that it was re-evaluating its options after Netanyahu’s hard-line comments.