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Netanyahu Reveals Aversion To 2-State Solution, White House Says


We're reporting this morning on the tension between the United States and Israel and one big point of contention - a possible nuclear deal with Iran. Much more about that in a moment. First, the White House is sticking to its tough tone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Let's recall during his recent campaign, Netanyahu disavowed a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu has been trying to walk back those statements. He told my colleague Steve Inskeep that he is not opposed to a two-state solution and that his campaign remarks were misinterpreted, but the White House is not buying that. Yesterday, President Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said Netanyahu's disavowal of a two-state solution is, quote, "very troubling." NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In a speech to the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, Denis McDonough said the White House can't just pretend those comments were never made. The White House believes Netanyahu has revealed his true aversion to making peace with the Palestinians and no amount of post-election backtracking and American media interviews can change that.


DENIS MCDONOUGH: An occupation that has lasted more - for almost 50 years must end. And the Palestinian people...


LIASSON: McDonough said a two-state solution remains the U.S. goal, and he reiterated that the White House would be re-evaluating its approach to the peace process, something other officials have suggested could mean an end to the U.S. blocking pro-Palestinian resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.


MCDONOUGH: Peace is necessary because it's the only way to ensure that a secure state of Israel is both Jewish and democratic. Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. That's the truth.


LIASSON: Without a two-state solution, it may be impossible to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic. That was the worry of Jewish activists like Howard Simonoff of Cherry Hill, N.J., who attended the J Street conference yesterday.

HOWARD SIMONOFF: If there's no two-state solution, there would be an absorption of all the West Bank, and I don't know what happens then because the Palestinians then outnumber the Israelis who are not Arabs. The Jewish population becomes a minority. And under those circumstances, what happens to the Jewish homeland? It changes its character.

LIASSON: Or the occupation just continues with half the population lacking basic democratic rights, a recipe, McDonough said, for Israel's continued isolation. The White House chief of staff also defended the emerging Iran deal, which is facing opposition from Netanyahu and from the U.S. Congress. McDonough said the deal the U.S. is pursuing is both realistic and achievable, the best alternative to waging another war in the Middle East, even if it leaves in place some of Iran's nuclear program.


MCDONOUGH: Not even our closest partners support denying Iran the ability to pursue peaceful nuclear energy forever, and Iran already knows how to enrich uranium. We can't turn back the clock on that.

LIASSON: He warned that if Congress scuttled the deal, the U.S. would be blamed, international support for sanctions would evaporate and Iran would be free to move quickly to build a nuclear weapon.


MCDONOUGH: Bottom line is this - compared to the alternatives, diplomacy offers the best and most effective way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


MCDONOUGH: And this is our best shot at diplomacy.

LIASSON: Yesterday, 367 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the president saying they would not lift sanctions on Iran unless they were convinced Iran had no pathway to a bomb. McDonough said that was the White House definition of a good deal, to cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon - every single one. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.