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Netanyahu Apologizes For Comments About Palestinian Israeli Arabs

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel apologized on Monday for making what were widely condemned as racist comments last week in saying that Arab citizens were voting in “droves.”

But even as he spoke with a group of Israeli Arabs gathered at his Jerusalem residence, the White House issued a new signal that it remained furious with Mr. Netanyahu for campaign comments that also appeared to close the door on a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.

In the days since the bitter Israeli election, Mr. Netanyahu has been denounced for two statements he made toward the conclusion: his assertion that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, and his alarm over voting by Israeli Arab citizens. He has been trying, with limited success, to backpedal on both.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election celebrated on Tuesday night as results came in at his campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv.News Analysis: Deep Wounds and Lingering Questions After Israel’s Bitter RaceMARCH 17, 2015

In Washington on Monday, Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff, said in a speech that Mr. Netanyahu’s pre-election assertions about Palestinian statehood were “very troubling.” It was the latest in a series of public scoldings by senior members of Mr. Obama’s team, including one by the president himself, rejecting the prime minister’s attempts to explain himself.

On the eve of the recent Israeli election, the prime minister said that no Palestinian state would be created on his watch. Two days later, he began to backtrack.

“After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution,” Mr. McDonough told the annual conference of J Street, a pro-Israel group aligned with the Democratic Party.

After the voting, Mr. Netanyahu said his reference to Israeli Arabs had not been intended to dissuade them from voting but to encourage his own supporters to cast ballots. He said his remarks on a Palestinian state had been widely misunderstood and that he still supported the idea but not under current conditions.

The White House was unmoved by the recalibration, and Mr. Obama offered harsh criticism of Mr. Netanyahu in an interview with Huffington Post on Saturday.

While the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Monday that it was appropriate that Mr. Netanyahu apologize for his comments about Israeli Arabs, there was no sign of any softening from the administration over its anger with Mr. Netanyahu over his comments about the Palestinian question.

“We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” Mr. McDonough said. He told a crowd of 3,000 at the J Street meeting that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “must end.”

The two-state solution “remains our goal today, because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” he added. “We will look to the next Israeli government to match words with action.”

Israelis and American Jewish leaders had largely embraced Mr. Netanyahu’s backpedaling on the Palestinian state, in which he insisted he had not reversed his 2009 endorsement of the concept of two states for two peoples. The language he used regarding Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens, however, had fomented domestic discord in quarters that Mr. Netanyahu counts on. – New York Times

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