Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry condemned efforts by the Palestinians to seek a formal recognition of statehood at the United Nations, inserting his candidacy into a complex foreign policy dispute.
In a speech this morning in New York, the Texas governor denounced Palestinian plans this week to petition the UN General Assembly for full membership, saying President Barack Obama emboldened Palestinian leaders to seek recognition by demanding compromises from the Israelis.
“Simply put, we would not be here today, at the precipice of such a dangerous move, if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” he said.
Republicans and some Israel advocates have said Obama has put more pressure on Israel than the Palestinians to make compromises to reach a peace agreement.
“What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster,” former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, another Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement released before Perry’s speech. “It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”
Keeping Military Edge
The Obama administration has supported Israel at the UN and has helped it keep its military edge in the region, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for communications, said when asked about Perry’s comments.
“Anybody who examines the record of the Obama administration on Israel will see that we have been unshakable in our support,” Rhodes said at a briefing in New York. “The president has been working on behalf of a two-state solution which has been an effort that’s been undertaken by multiple administrations of both parties for many years.”
Perry and the other Republican presidential candidates want to demonstrate their strong backing for Israel to increase their appeal among Jewish and evangelical voters, who support Israel for religious reasons. In remarks after his speech, Perry said his Christianity is one reason he supports Israel.
“As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it’s pretty easy,” Perry said. “Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”
The U.S. has said it will veto the Palestinians’ petition in the Security Council, though the Palestinians can push for limited membership before the General Assembly, which includes more supporters. The administration also has said the only path to a two-state solution is through direct negotiations.
If the UN recognizes Palestinian statehood, Perry said the U.S. should close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and consider stopping U.S. foreign aid to Palestinians.
Perry said that by proposing to mediate peace negotiations, the Obama administration had encouraged the Palestinians to go to the UN rather than engaging in direct talks with Israel. The administration’s suggestion that the 1967 borders should be a starting point for those negotiations isolated Israel, said Perry.
The 10-minute address offered an early glimpse into Perry’s foreign policy.
He expressed support for building Israeli settlements on disputed land and giving Israel control of the entire city of Jerusalem. He said he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move American diplomats out of Tel Aviv.
“If you want to work for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem,” he said.
Perry said he supported a two-state solution that would create both independent Israeli and Palestinian nations, if it’s the result of direct negotiations.
Surrounded by Jewish leaders, including deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset Danny Danon and others who oppose creating a separate Palestinian state, Perry laid out preconditions for any talks. Palestinian leaders must “publicly affirm” Israel’s right to exist, persuade Hamas and other groups to renounce terrorism, and release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whose release has become a rallying cause for pro-Israel activists, he said.
“By not insisting on these principles, the Obama administration has appeased the Arab street at the expense of our own national security interests,” he said. “They have sowed instability that threatens the prospects of peace.”
Criticism of Obama’s Israel policy may have helped Republican Bob Turner win a special election last week in a New York congressional district with a large population of Jewish and Democratic voters.
“I am the messenger from the 9th Congressional District,” said Turner, who spoke after Perry. “The message that the voters have sent is that this administration has been vacillating and, at times, even hostile to Israel and it is not acceptable.”