NYT: Netanyahu Apologizes; White House Is Unmoved

A campaign poster of Mr. Netanyahu as seen from a bus last week near Tel Aviv. His remarks in the final days of his campaign drew criticism. Credit Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

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 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.

In Washington, Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff, said in a speech Monday 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.

“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 The Huffington Post on Saturday.

While the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Monday that it was appropriate for Mr. Netanyahu to 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.

In another speech to the same group Monday evening, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, sharply criticized Mr. Netanyahu for not living up to his past promises to work for peace. “His actions have not matched his rhetoric,” he said.

On the United States’ nuclear talks with Iran, Mr. Baker said critics should not judge an agreement before it is reached and warned of the dire consequences of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities if talks fail. “Neither the United States nor Israel should let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said…