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By Calev Ben-David, Bloomberg News (TNS)

JERUSALEM –– The U.S. ambassador to Israel said on Israeli radio Sunday that if it’s impossible to reach a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister, a question arises: “If negotiations are impossible, what other steps can be taken?

Netanyahu said the day before Israel’s March 17 election that there would be no Palestinian state if he were re-elected. After the Israeli leader emerged from the vote with his Likud Party strengthened, he softened that stance, saying he wanted a two-state solution, though “circumstances have to change.”

President Barack Obama and Netanyahu have clashed over several issues in the past six years, including peacemaking with the Palestinians, how to best deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s recent comments and the prospect of his heading a new government even more resistant to peacemaking with the Palestinians could bring relations between the U.S. and Israel to an even lower point.

Shapiro’s comments followed remarks by Obama, published Saturday in a Huffington Post interview, reacting to Netanyahu ruling out a Palestinian state in the near future.

“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama said.

Netanyahu’s remarks opposing a Palestinian state, and the concern he expressed about the influence of Israeli Arab voters in determining the next government, helped Likud get more votes from hawkish Israelis and win the most parliamentary seats. The prime minister still needs support from other factions to form a parliamentary majority, a process that began Sunday as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began talks with party leaders.

“In a democracy, the majority decides — and the majority has spoken clearly,” Rivlin said Sunday. “We accept the democratic will fully, and with our blessing.”

Forming a new government may take several weeks, as Likud negotiates with parties to distribute senior Cabinet posts among the coalition factions. Netanyahu has said he sees Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which opposes any Palestinian state and supports more Jewish settlement in the West Bank, as Likud’s most natural ally among the factions.

Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr

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