President Barack Obama refused to rule out the possibility of allowing a Palestinian push for statehood through the United Nations as part of a U.S. reassessment of its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We’re going to do that evaluation,” Obama said at a news conference in response to a question on whether he would consider supporting Palestinian statehood at the UN. “We’re going to partly wait for an actual Israeli government to form.”
Such a move would represent a major shift in U.S. policy and trigger new tensions with Israel and between the Obama administration and Congress.
While other administration officials have said the U.S. would reevaluate its stance after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he won’t support the creation of a Palestinian state anytime soon, Tuesday’s White House news conference marked the strongest indication from the president of his intentions.
Obama’s comments also indicated that the administration plans to keep up pressure on Netanyahu, who has backed away from his original statements, made last week just before Israeli voters went to the polls.
Obama said that even though Netanyahu has sought to clarify his pre-election statements, the Israeli leader still set conditions for talks with the Palestinians that “would be impossible to meet anytime soon.”
That has cut off prospects for any negotiations which could trigger “a downward spiral of relations that will be dangerous for everybody,” Obama said.
“We’ll continue to engage the Israeli government as well as the Palestinians, and ask them where they are interested in going and how do they see this issue being resolved,” he said. “But what we can’t do is pretend that there’s a possibility of something that’s not there.”
While Obama did not detail how the U.S. might support Palestinian statehood at the UN, one option is to back a UN Security Council resolution saying a two-state solution would be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders with Gaza and the West Bank as well as mutually agreed swaps of land.
The U.S. has thwarted that bid at the UN, which is opposed by Israel.
Obama also refused to comment when asked about a Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday that U.S. officials were upset Israel had spied on negotiators involved in talks over Iran’s nuclear program, and used that information to argue against the emerging deal.
Israeli officials have denied the charge.
“Someone has an interest in creating conflict and blowing an even fouler wind” into U.S.-Israel relations, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, according to audio clip supplied by his office. “Israel would never spy on the Americans.”