(Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied on Thursday abandoning his commitment to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, backing away from comments he made during his re-election campaign that drew sharp criticism from Israel’s ally the United States.
“I haven’t changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State,” Netanyahu said in an interview with MSNBC two days after winning a bitterly contested Israeli election.
“What has changed is the reality,” Netanyahu said, citing the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Hamas militant group’s continued control of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu drew a sharp rebuke from the United States and the international community for his comments on the eve of Tuesday’s election that there would be no Palestinian state created on his watch. The quest for Palestinian statehood is a cornerstone of both U.S. diplomacy going back decades and President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy.
On Wednesday, the White House scolded Netanyahu for abandoning his commitment to negotiate for a Palestinian state and for “divisive” campaign rhetoric toward Israel’s minority Arab voters.
Netanyahu backed off his election eve comment on Thursday…