GOP candidates target Obama’s Middle East policy
With world leaders in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Republican presidential hopefuls used the opportunity Tuesday to blame President Obama for the most contentious issues looming over the gathering, saying he had emboldened the Palestinians to push for statehood and endangered Israel by kowtowing to Iran, Muslim militants, and, in the words of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “the orchestrators of terrorism.”
Perry, speaking at a Manhattan hotel, made a pitch to Jewish voters by calling for Jerusalem — including East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians envision as the capital of their future state — to be the undisputed territory of Israel.
Perry said he opposed limitations on Israeli development in East Jerusalem and on the building of new Jewish settlements, and vowed that if he became president, he would solidify recognition of Jerusalem as an unpartitioned city under Israeli control by suggesting he would move American diplomats there from Tel Aviv.
“If you want to be working for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem,” Perry said.
His comments are sure to resonate in some quarters of New York City, where voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic 9th Congressional District last week stunned Democrats by choosing a Republican. The campaign in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner focused on Obama’s Middle East policy, which Republicans and some Democrats said was hostile toward Israel and overly generous toward the Palestinians.
Bob Turner, the first Republican to win the district in more than 80 years, stood beside Perry, who wasn’t alone among the Republican candidates in blaming Obama for increased Middle East turmoil.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the Palestinians’ vow to seek statehood at the United Nations “an unmitigated diplomatic disaster.” Diplomats were scrambling to come up with a plan Tuesday to indefinitely delay the move.
“It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position,” Romney said in a statement, echoing Perry’s argument that by demanding certain things of Israel, such as a halt to construction in East Jerusalem, Obama has emboldened the Palestinians to take their statehood demand to a higher level.
In Des Moines, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) also bashed Obama’s Middle East policy but focused her comments on Iran, whose leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is scheduled to address the U.N. gathering this week.
“Since he is, in the most literal sense, an outlaw, he should not be allowed in the United States of America,” she said.
Bachmann also said the White House had failed to take a firm stance against Iran’s nuclear program.
“This administration tried and failed to do outreach to Iran, reminding us once again that appeasement of deadly dictators is never a wise and never an effective strategy,” Bachmann said after touring the Amend Packing Co., where she admired enormous sides of beef in a chilly meat locker.
It’s doubtful any of the GOP candidates could win over the bulk of the Jewish electorate, a historically Democratic constituency. In Washington, National Jewish Democratic Council President David A. Harris called Perry’s attack on Obama “baseless” and accused him and other Republican candidates of using Israel as a political football.
But Turner’s election underscored the depth of anger among many Jewish voters since a foreign policy speech by Obama in May, and it showed the potential for Republican candidates to pick up support from crossover voters. The Israel issue also appeals to evangelical Christians, who defend Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on biblical grounds.
Obama’s critics, including Perry on Tuesday, say that in the May speech the president shifted the U.S. position in favor of the Palestinians by saying that negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians should be based on borders that existed before Israel’s seizure of land in 1967. Obama has said critics misrepresented his comments by omitting his caveat that talks be based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed [land] swaps.”
Perry, though, hammered away at Obama’s reference to 1967 borders and said it was particularly “insulting and naive” coming on the eve of a visit to Washington by the Israeli prime minister. “Israel is our oldest and strongest ally in the Middle East,” he said.
“The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult,” he added.
In an interview with Time magazine this month, Perry appeared to be out of step with the details of the 1993 Oslo accords when he demanded that Palestinian leaders renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. They did that in the 1993 accords.
On Tuesday, Perry emphasized that the Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist, “and to exist as a Jewish state,” an important addition lacking in his magazine comments.
He also called on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to persuade all Palestinian factions, including the militant group Hamas, to renounce violence, rather than simply repeat his magazine comments in which he demanded the Palestinians renounce violence — something they did in the Oslo accords.
In a USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday, Perry leads Romney 31% to 24% among Republicans. Both are running well ahead of the field, with only one other candidate — Texas Rep. Ron Paul — scoring in the double digits.
But the poll also finds that most Republicans, 53%, would prefer that the party nominate the person who has the best chance of beating Obama, even if the nominee does not agree with them on almost all of the issues.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta in Des Moines contributed to this report.
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