Netanyahu has bared true face

Editor’s Note: Alan Elsner is vice president of communications for J Street, the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed idea of Palestinian state during campaign

Alan Elsner: Israeli officials have started backing away from his statements

CNN  — 

In the final days of the Israeli election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disavowed the two-state solution and said there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

He also earned universal condemnation for his panicked warning to his followers on election day that Arabs were “voting in droves” – a comment that will resound to his shame and can neither be forgiven nor forgotten unless he apologizes clearly, sincerely and without reservation.

Alan Elsner

And now, facing international uproar and a stern U.S. response, Israeli officials have started backing away from these statements. The Israeli ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, said Wednesday on CBC TV, “This is an election campaign and you have to take with a grain of salt what was said at the last minute when the polls say you are going to lose.”

Netanyahu himself, in an interview on NBC, tried to qualify his words about a two-state solution, saying what he meant to say was that a Palestinian state was not viable under present conditions.

He knows that stance is totally unacceptable to Israel’s chief ally, the United States, and to the rest of the international community. And he should not be allowed to slip off the hook so easily. Indeed, far from taking this statement with a grain of salt, the world is likely to look back at his previously stated support for a two-state solution and take that with more than a grain of salt.

The fact is, rhetorical if not actual support for a two-state solution has served Netanyahu well for the past several years, and has provided him with a convenient shield against international pressure to end the almost 48-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Also helping Netanyahu was the presence in his Cabinet of Israeli politicians who actually do believe in a two-state solution and worked hard to make it happen – notably former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who headed up the failed 2014 negotiations with the Palestinians. Livni wanted to move forward in the talks, but found herself hemmed in and frustrated by Netanyahu’s aides – and apparently by the prime minister himself – at every turn.

Now, as he constructs a coalition of ultranationalists and ultra-Orthodox, those shields have been stripped away. Netanyahu must now face the world having bared his true face and exposed his true beliefs – and the international community, led by the United States, must respond accordingly.

What should this involve?

To begin with, Washington should not wait for others to draft a U.N. resolution condemning the settlements. It should take the initiative, in consultation with its international partners, in drafting a resolution that lays out the detailed parameters for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The resolution should of course state unequivocally that the solution rests in an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps to incorporate some of the major settlement blocs within Israel. It should also reiterate Israel’s right to security. And it should state clearly and unambiguously that the settlements are illegal under international law and must stop.

Words are important – but more important are deeds. Whatever he says about the two-state solution, the next Netanyahu government is virtually certain to blast ahead with settlement-building. It is on that basis that he and his administration should be diplomatically isolated and condemned.

In his campaign statement, Netanyahu took pride in approving the construction of a huge suburb on the southern fringes of Jerusalem in order to block Palestinian construction from neighboring Bethlehem. He boasted that the building was not simply to provide housing for Jews rather than Palestinians, but that it was to make it harder for the Palestinians to establish a coherent, territorially contiguous state.

Netanyahu’s statement was a moment of truth for him, for Israel and for the world. He was admirably blunt and concise. He left no doubt what he intended. Now, the world must hold him to account.

Read CNNOpinion’s new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on