Here are White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough's comments, made at the J Street Annual Conference, in fuller context:
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, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the Prime Minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.Over at the State Department, spokesperson Marie Harf piled on, despite clarification and even apologies from Netanyahu for some of his pre-election remarks:
MS. HARF: Well, the President, I think, addressed this in his interview that ran this weekend – that given [Netanyahu's] statements prior to the election, it’s going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing, when it comes to negotiations, that those are possible. So we are evaluating what’s taking place. And I think what we’re looking for now are actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution, not more words. So that’s what we’ll be looking for.
... I think it’s just understandably confusing for people about which of his comments to believe. And so that’s why --
...I think we just don’t know what to believe at this point.On the other hand, Ayatollah Khamenei's Nowruz (Iranian New Year) message called for "Death to America" even as he voiced support for the ongoing nuclear negotiations, blaming the US in advance if the talks fail. Rather than read this dichotomy as a reason to doubt Iran's sincerity (John Kerry, after all, said that we have "great respect" for the religious importance of the Ayatollah's elusive anti-nuke fatwa), White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest simply sees this as all the more reason to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran. And as CNN reported (via Josh Kraushaar), the White House just sees the "Death to America" talk as "intended for a domestic political audience," not the first time the Obama administration has used that excuse for Iran.
Even for veterans observers of middle eastern politics it must be disorienting to witness the benefit of the doubt extended to the worst state sponsor of terrorism whose "Supreme Leader" wishes "Death to America", while this nation's closest ally in the Middle East (and also a target of death wishes by Iran's Supreme Leader) is met with the wounded lament, "I think we just don’t know what to believe at this point." Given these responses, the Unites States may not be the only country to "re-evaluate our approach to the peace process."
Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.