Israelis and Palestinians are unlikely to resume negotiations — much less conclude a two-state agreement — during the Obama administration’s remaining 14 months, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington on Monday.
“I think we have been quite candid about the fact that given the dynamic on both sides, it is unlikely that the two-state solution will be reached in the next 14 month,” Earnest said.
“It is even unlikely that talks in pursuit of that two state solute would begin in the next 14 months,” Earnest said.
He spoke at the tail end of the Oval Office meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in which the renewal of the memorandum of understanding that provides Israel annually with $3.1 billion in military assistance through 2017 was under discussion.
Both men entered office in 2009, Since then, Obama has made two significant failed attempts to engage Israel and the Palestinians in a peace process that would lead to a two-state solution.
After the last round of talks ended in 2014, it appeared as if circumstances, such as the Gaza war in the summer of 2014 and elections in March, prevented the US from pushing forward with a third initiative.
In the final days of the election process, Netanyahu said that given the violent extremism in the region, conditions did not exist that would allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state at this time, to which the Obama administration responded by stating that it would have to reassess its policy with regard to the Middle East peace process.
Earnest told reporters on Monday the administration has completed that examination and arrived at the same conclusion as Netanyahu, although its analysis of the problem differed from that of the prime minister.
“There was a reassessment about our policy toward a two-state solution and whether or not that is something that is viable moving forward given the public comments of Netanyahu earlier this year,” Earnest said.
“The observation that was made at the end of last week was that a two-state solution was not going to happen while Obama was in office,” the press secretary said.
Netanyahu pledged his support for a two-state solution at the start of his meeting with Obama on Monday morning.
“We’ll never give up our hope for peace. And I remain committed to a vision of peace, of two states for two peoples, of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” he said.
In the briefing room, a reporter asked Earnest if Netanyahu’s words sounded hollow.
“No. They do not, not to me,” Earnest said as he explained that the prime minister had a responsibility as the elected leader of his country to take steps to ensure its security.
But, he said, the best way to measure Netanyahu’s sincerity on this issue was to “see the degree to which his administration is willing to follow through on those comments.
“That is certainly what the Obama administration will be doing and I anticipate that other governments will be doing the same thing,” he said.
Settlement building, for example, he said, is one of the Israeli measures that have been harmful to attempts to resume talks with the Palestinians.
Palestinians have insisted that they will not talk with Israel until it halts all Jewish building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu has refused to cede to that request and insists the stumbling block to a two-state solution is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He has consistently called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations “without preconditions.”
Over the years, Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Earnest have made comments that appeared to blame the failure of the peace process on continued settlement building.
On Monday, Earnest said the problem lay with both Israelis and Palestinians.
“It is possible that Netanyahu could make some commitment and send clear signals that they [Israel] are recommitted to trying to advance a process toward a two-state solution and that would not be enough,” Earnest said.
Both sides must take confidence-building measures, he added.
“We will need to see a commitment on the part of the Palestinian leaders, too, to ending violence and incitement and demonstrating their commitment to negotiating in good faith,” Earnest said.
The US will do what it can to move the process in the direction of talks, Earnest said, urging Israelis and Palestinians to help make that happen.
He rejected the possibility of any linkage between continued settlement building and future defense funding for Israel.
“The commitment of the US to Israel’s security is unshakable. Israel is the strongest ally the US has in that region of the world and improving and strengthening Israel’s security is good for the national security of the US,” Earnest said.
“We may have our disagreements about how to pursue our shared objectives, as we saw on display as we completed the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We even have some differences of opinion when it comes to the peace process. But that has not affected the commitment of this administration or this country to Israel’s security,” he said.
However, he added, “Resolving the conflict is in the best interest of US national security and the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”