WASHINGTON — Benjamin Netanyahu's decisive election victory likely dashes any prospect for a thaw in the tense and tumultuous relationship between President Barack Obama and the Israeli leader. Moreover, Netanyahu's campaign tack to the right, particularly his rejection of Palestinian statehood, will further complicate pursuit of an elusive peace by Obama and his successor.
If Netanyahu holds firm to his opposition to a two-state resolution to the Mideast conflict, it could force whoever sits in the Oval Office to choose between the prime minister and a longstanding U.S. policy with bipartisan support. It could also make it more difficult for Washington to stop Palestinian leaders from taking their case against Israel to the United Nations and other international organizations, where they already have the backing of Europe and many other countries.
On Wednesday, the White House quickly reaffirmed its support for the idea of two independent nations living side by side, a central tenet of peace negotiations led by presidents from both U.S. political parties. And the White House sharply chastised Netanyahu's party for using anti-Arab rhetoric in the lead-up to the election.
"Rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Republican presidential hopefuls welcomed Netanyahu's victory, though they were notably silent about whether they backed Palestinian statehood.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz praised Netanyahu for overcoming "powerful forces" that tried to undermine him, including "the full weight of the Obama political team." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush congratulated Netanyahu on Twitter, calling him a true leader who will continue to keep Israel strong and secure."
Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, made a two-state solution a cornerstone of his efforts to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Obama also has pursued Palestinian statehood, most aggressively in a months-long push for peace that ultimately collapsed last year.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner if she enters the 2016 campaign, did not comment on the Israeli elections Wednesday. As Obama's first secretary of state, she worked closely with Netanyahu and championed an independent Palestinian state.
Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East adviser to secretaries of state from both parties, said it was unlikely a U.S. president of either party would abandon support for Palestinian statehood in the near future.
"I suspect it is the fate of both Democratic and Republican presidents to be caught in a situation in which a two-state solution is too difficult to implement on the one hand and yet too difficult to abandon on the other," said Miller, now a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu Wednesday, and administration officials said the U.S. was re-evaluating how to proceed with a two-state solution. The White House said Obama would wait until after the prime minister formed a coalition government before calling him.
The Likud Party's decisive victory in Tuesday's elections marked a stunning comeback in a tight race that put Netanyahu in political jeopardy. In the campaign's closing days, Netanyahu abandoned his public commitment to Palestinian statehood.
While the White House publicly avoided taking sides in the election, it was no secret that Obama and his advisers would have welcomed a change in Israeli leadership. Netanyahu is a fierce critic of Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran, a country Netanyahu says poses a deadly threat to Israel. Netanyahu also deeply angered the White House by accepting a Republican invitation to address Congress earlier this month and make his case against the emerging outlines of an Iran deal.
Netanyahu's shift on Palestinian statehood now seems certain to deepen the rift with Obama. Despite his past assurances to the West, Netanyahu said this week that any talk of Israel withdrawing from lands it seized in 1967 to make room for a Palestinian state is irrelevant because, in his view, Islamic extremists would seize such territory.
Though the prospects of a peace accord in Obama's final 20 months in office were already slim, Netanyahu's stance slammed shut any hope for a breakthrough without a dramatic shift in the region.
"A push now to try to get to the table would run the risk that you produce negotiations that are bound to fail," said Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East envoy. "What you can't afford now is more failure."
Netanyahu announced his support for Palestinian statehood in 2009, shortly after Obama became president. He continued to publicly back that position even as he approved new settlements in East Jerusalem, raising questions about his level of commitment.
Frustrated by both Israel and the U.S., Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has become increasingly aggressive in efforts to secure a Palestinian state through other means, including the UN Security Council. The U.S. has veto power on the council and has repeatedly warned Abbas against pursuing that avenue.
Earlier this year, the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court in pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel. Any decision on a possible investigation is now up to the ICC prosecutor.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Matthew Lee contributed to this report. Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC