Dec 15th 2011

GOP Candidates Discuss Israel-Palestine

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

On December 7, 2012, six Republican candidates for President (Rep. Ron Paul was not invited) appeared before the Republican Jewish Coalition (NRC) to campaign for Christian votes. There are Jewish Republicans, to be sure, but not enough to make a difference in this primary contest. No, the real prize that drew the candidates to the NRC event were the 40% of GOP primary voters who are declared "born-again" Christians who fervently believe that Israel can do no wrong and that it is their religious duty to support any and all Israeli policies as a prerequisite to hasten the "Day of Judgment".

The speeches were mostly filled with hysterical criticism of President Obama's "appeasement" of Israel's enemies and hyperbolic praise for Israel (with the exception of John Huntsman, who, after a few pandering platitudes, spoke mostly about the economy-and was greeted with "stoney silence"). Because their remarks included such irresponsible charges and promises, I have included significant excerpts below in order to give a flavor of how out of touch today's GOP is from current Middle East realities:

Newt Gingrich

"As President, on my first day in office, I will issue an executive order directing the US Embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem as provided for in the legislation I introduced in Congress in 1995…The United States should explicitly reject the concept of a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The so called right of return is a historically impossible demand that would be a demographic disaster and mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel. We are for a right to prosperity, a right to freedom, a right to the rule of law, a right to private property, but we must be totally opposed to a right of return…[And] the United Nations camps system must be replaced by a system of earned income and property rights to restore dignity and hope to every Palestinian."

[Gingrich on The Jewish Channel, the next day]

"Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940's, and I think it's tragic."

Michele Bachmann

"It seems as if lately, our President has forgotten the importance of Israel to America and thinks of our relationship only in terms of what we do for Israel. The President is more concerned about Israel building homes on its own land than the threats that Israel and America face in the region…Our policy has confused engagement with appeasement and has inspired Israel's enemies.

"Obama improperly calls for Israel to retreat to indefensible 1949 armistice lines with swaps, and to then still face further demands to divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian 'right of return' to overrun the entire State of Israel. The Obama administration has also unconditionally given the Palestinians unprecedented amounts of U.S. foreign aid, and opposed Congressional efforts to condition aid on the real steps that would bring about peace."

"The so-called Palestinian 'right of return,' would demographically destroy Israel by swamping it with millions of Arabs who never lived in Israel, thereby turning the world's only Jewish state into the world's 23rd Arab state.

"My administration will fully recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital…My administration will also recognize Israel's 1980 annexation of the Golan Heights and any settlements, which Israel, as a sovereign state, chooses to annex. Simply put, my administration will accord Israel the respect to which sovereign, democratic nations are entitled."

Mitt Romney

"Over the past three years, President Obama has... chastened Israel. He's publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He's insulted its Prime Minister. And he's been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.

"These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table. President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East."

Rick Perry

"President Obama has systematically undermined America's relationship with Israel…I want to be clear I support the goal of a Palestinian state, but it should be the Palestinians who meet certain preconditions.

"Instead, the Administration has insisted on previously unheard-of preconditions for Israel, such as an immediate stop to all settlement activity. President Obama has suggested the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations. And he has instituted the practice of "indirect talks", subverting the Oslo Accords.

"Israel does not need our President demanding gratitude for being the best friend Israel has ever had while his Secretary of Defense rails that Israel has to "get back to the damn table" with the Palestinians, and his Secretary of State questions the viability of Israel's democracy, even as his Ambassador to Belgium blames anti-Semitism among Muslims on Israel's failure to accommodate the Palestinians"…This torrent of hostility towards Israel does not seem to have been coordinated, but rather is the natural expression of this administration's attitude towards Israel."

* * *

All of this goes beyond the normal platitudes offered up in an election year. It was dangerous, shameful, and crass pandering, making it clear how far today's GOP has moved from the reality-based foreign policy of the Bush-Baker era. And while it's hard to imagine the alternate universe inhabited by these candidates for President, it's frightening to think of where they will take U.S. - Middle East policy should any of them be elected.

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