US concerned by Netanyahu's 'divisive rhetoric' in Israeli election campaign

#IsraeliElections

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised for his warning that Palestinian citizens of Israel were 'voting in droves'

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks during a daily briefing (AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 18 March 2015 21:45 UTC

The White House is “deeply concerned” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu’s comments on the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the run-up to the elections.

"The Obama administration is deeply concerned by the use of divisive rhetoric in Israel that sought to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens," said White House Press secretary Josh Ernest on Wednesday, referring to Netanyahu’s warning to voters that the Israeli-Palestinians were “voting in droves.”

"This rhetoric 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,” Ernest said.

“These are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

After a close-fought campaign, Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party confounded expectations and on Tuesday evening won 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, against 24 for the centre-left Zionist Union.

The White House also expressed concern over Netanyahu’s last-minute promise to voters that he would not seek the creation of a Palestinian state if elected.

"It has been the policy of the US for more than 20 years that a two-state solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Earnest said.

In contrast to the White House statement, other world leaders were quick to congratulate Netanyahu for winning the general election, although the Israeli leader must still successfully form a coalition government if he is to serve a fourth term as prime minister.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his congratulations adding that "Israel has no greater friend than Canada."

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated him.

“Congratulations my friend Bibi @Netanyahu! Recall our New York meeting last September warmly,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s nickname.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated Netanyahu on Twitter, though his official spokesperson emphasised that Cameron wanted “to see peace, he wants to see a two-state solution and we are going to - as one of Israel's firmest friends - continue to do what we can to support that goal."

The relationship between the White House and Netanyahu reached a nadir last month after the Republican leader of the House of Representatives in Congress, John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to address the house, without seeking prior approval from the President Barack Obama's administration.

Obama refused to meet with the Prime Minister and afterwards dismissed Netanyahu’s speech – which focused on the supposed nuclear bomb threat from Iran – as “nothing new.”

Republican leaders were, by contrast, supportive of Netanyahu’s re-election with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz describing him an “extraordinary leader” in a statement.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin described Netanyahu as a leader who would “stand up and fight for all the free world while other leaders sit down.”

State department spokesperson Jen Psaki also dismissed concerns that Netanyahu’s re-election could potentially undermine the ongoing P5+1 talks with Iran.

"We've been long familiar with the views of the prime minister on Iran. We don't think that his win has impacted the Iran negotiations, or will," she said.

"We're pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week. There's still a couple of days left."