Mideast peace remains the goal -- but still distant -- after Israeli elections

Story highlights

  • The White House says it would "reassess" the relationship between the United States and Israel
  • That comes after Netanyahu made campaign statements against a Palestinian state
  • Netanyahu rolled back the comments after his election victory

Jerusalem (CNN)Within 48 hours of his election night victory, Benjamin Netanyahu rolled back his pre-election comments that there would be no Palestinian state if he were Prime Minister, but the damage may already have been done to relations with the two other major players in the negotiations: the United States and the Palestinians.

In an interview with NBC, Netanyahu said, "I haven't changed my policy, I never retracted my speech six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. What has changed is the reality, Abu Mazen (nickhame of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) the Palestinian leader refuses to recognize the Jewish state, and he's made a pact with Hamas that calls for the destruction of Israel. And every territory vacated these days in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces and we want that to change so we can realize the vision of real sustained peace. I don't want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable two-state solution."
    Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he believes the pre-election statement that Netanyahu will not allow a two-state solution. He says the Palestinians will keep pursuing statehood through the international arena instead of through negotiations.
    "I've negotiated with them for 20 years, and I complained to the international community that there is a big difference between someone being a tough negotiator which is legitimate and someone being a non-negotiator," Erekat said. "All Netanyahu needs to do to gain the credibility and the trust, not only of me but of the international community, he needs to stand tall and tell the Israeli people that in order to live in peace with our neighbors we're going to have to recognize the state of Palestine."
    Erekat says the Palestinians may try again for recognition once more at the United Nations, a forum where they fell one vote short of recognition as a full UN member state in December. A new United Nations Security Council consisting of different member states may be more favorable to a second Palestinian bid.
    So where does that leave the United States?
    The White House said it would "reassess" the relationship between the United States and Israel. The broad relationship includes security cooperation, financial assistance, and strong diplomatic ties. Both leaders reaffirmed the strength of those ties in the weeks before the Israeli elections. But the United States has also used its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to block resolutions unfavorable to Israel. Some of that protection could be at stake here as the White House urges both sides back to negotiations.
    The last peace talks, moderated by Secretary of State John Kerry, broke down in April 2014 after nine months of negotiations. As the talks deteriorated before the scheduled deadline, Israel withdrew from the negotiations when Fatah announced a reconciliation with Hamas, a militant Islamic group, and an intention to form a unity government.
    In a phone call with Netanyahu, President Barack Obama congratulated Netanyahu and stressed the importance of a two-state solution. But with so much skepticism on both sides, a lasting peace remains a distant goal.