Barack Obama’s top aide says Israeli ‘occupation’ must end – Edward-Isaac Dovere – POLITICO
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made clear in a speech to a left-leaning Israel advocacy group that President Barack Obama isn’t letting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the hook for his dismissal of a two-state solution.
That stance, as well as Netanyahu’s suggestion also made in the closing days before last week’s Israeli elections that he’d approved settlements in contested territory in Jerusalem for the strategic purpose of changing the borders are “so very troubling,” McDonough told J Street’s annual conference in Washington. He called the pro-Israel group, which opposes some of Netanyahu’s policies, “our partner.”
McDonough added that the White House isn’t impressed by Netanyahu’s efforts since last Tuesday to backtrack on what he meant when he said there wouldn’t be a Palestinian state established so long as he’s prime minister.
“We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” McDonough said.
McDonough said the Obama administration is well aware of the regional security problems Netanyahu referenced in explaining why he didn’t see a two-state solution as an imminent possibility. But he said Obama does not believe that is or could be reason to back off talks — and this is not simply matter of personal “pique” about Netanyahu, the chief of staff said.
“The United States will never stop working for a two-state solution and a lasting peace that Israelis and Palestinians so richly deserve,” he said.
McDonough then described the alternate to a two-state agreement: a one-state solution based on unilateral annexation and abandonment of democratic rights for Palestinians that, he warned, “would only contribute to Israel’s further isolation.” In other words, he said, more divestment, boycotts and efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international community.
“An occupation that has lasted more than 50 years must end,” McDonough said, one of several times he brought the crowd to its feet.
He reiterated that Obama remains committed to Israel’s security through investments in the Iron Dome missile protection system, which he said will never waver, and described negotiations with Iran over curbing its nuclear ambitions part of that commitment.
Though he didn’t specifically mention the prime minister, who denounced the negotiations in a controversial address to Congress last month, McDonough dismissed “an absolutist position [that] makes for good rhetoric.”
He went through the broad strokes of what a deal would entail, saying that if one is reached, Obama will work to bring the public and Congress on board and remain vigilant in monitoring the behavior of the Iranian regime.
“Even if a nuclear deal is reached, our concerns about Iran’s behavior and around the world will endure,” McDonough said.