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March 24, 2015 10:00 am

White House Chief of Staff: Israel’s ‘Occupation’ of Disputed Territories ‘Must End’

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Denis McDonough called for the end of Israel's "occupation" of disputed territories. Photo: Pete Souza. – Continuing the wave of Obama administration criticism of Israel following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Monday called for the end of Israel’s “occupation” of the disputed territories.

“An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state,” McDonough said at the J Street lobby’s annual conference in Washington, DC.

Despite the fact that Netanyahu has reaffirmed his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state, McDonough focused on pre-election comments in which the prime minister had apparently disavowed a two-state solution. Netanyahu later clarified that it was the reality on the ground that had changed, not his position on the issue.

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“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. … We cannot simply pretend that those [pre-election] comments were never made,” McDonough said.

The chief of staff’s remarks follow post-election criticism by White House and State Department spokespeople, and then by Obama himself, of Netanyahu’s pre-election comments on a Palestinian state and Israeli Arab voters. Obama told The Huffington Post that his administration would “evaluate” its “options” in the Middle East after Netanyahu’s comments on a two-state solution.

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