Netanyahu's Last-Minute Reversal on the Two-State Solution

Trailing in the polls ahead of Tuesday's elections, the Israeli premier disavowed the creation of a Palestinian state in an appeal to the right.

Back in 2009, just three months after he became Israel's prime minister for the second time, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered what many called "an historic address." In it, Netanyahu described his "vision" of peace between Israelis and Palestinians:

There are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor's security and existence.

The speech was deemed remarkable because it contained Netanyahu's first-ever call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, a statement he had resisted throughout his long and winding political career.

Nearly six years and three Gaza wars later, and with his political legacy on the ropes, Netanyahu issued a major retraction on Monday evening: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a radio interview.

The reversal came as his political fortunes flounder—Netanyahu's Likud Party is trailing in Israel's (notoriously fickle) polls, leaving many to believe he might be unseated in Tuesday's elections. Badly needing to siphon off votes from Israel's right-leaning parties, Netanyahu's change in course is the latest moment of panic in a campaign he was never meant to lose. On Sunday, Netanyahu raised the specter that his party might not emerge with enough seats to secure the premiership. In doing so, Netanyahu sank his long-standing air of invincibility in a country where a majority of citizens have had trouble imagining anyone else as their prime minister.

"One of Netanyahu’s greatest electoral assets—borne out in those relentless polls showing him to be voters’ preferred prime minister—is that he had created a palpable sense of inevitability about his rule," David Horovitz argues over at The Times of Israel. We'll find whether that is still true on Tuesday. But given his election-eve reversal, it seems Netanyahu may not even believe it anymore.