The Obama administration's first comments on the Israeli election came with a tough warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Think twice about election rhetoric that seems to cast Arab-Israelis as second-class citizens.
"The right-wing government is in danger," Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post before Tuesday's election. "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out."
The warning drew a reproach on Wednesday from White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens," Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. "It undermines the values and Democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”
Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Netanyahu on his victory, and Earnest said he expected President Obama to make a similar call in the coming days. Earnest said he didn't know whether Kerry had relayed the administration's concerns about the pre-election rhetoric.
Tensions between the White House and Netanyahu have been high since the Israeli prime minister denounced the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran before a joint meeting of Congress this month. Earlier this week, Netanyahu declared that if he were returned to office, he would oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. The statement was a reversal of his earlier position and was certain to further strain an already tense relationship with the Obama administration.
Earnest said the prime minister's disavowal of a two-state solution would cause the White House to reevaluate its approach.
“It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Earnest said. The United States continues to believe that a two-state solution is the “best way to defuse tensions” in the region, he said.