Rick Perry accused Barack Obama of abandoning Israel in favour of the ‘Arab street’
Photo By Don Emmert
By Chris McGreal in New York and Harriet Sherwood in Beit El
The confrontation over the Palestinian bid to win recognition as a state at the United Nations shifted to the US presidential race when Rick Perry, the leading Republican contender, accused Barack Obama of appeasing terrorists and betraying Israel.
Perry, at a campaign rally in New York, launched a stinging attack on Obama’s handing of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, accusing him of abandoning America’s ally in favour of the “Arab street” in the Egyptian revolution, as diplomatic wrangling continued to try to head off a showdown in the UN security council over the Palestinian request for statehood.
The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was to meet the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, on Tuesday as Europe spearheaded efforts to dissuade him from pursuing the UN move with promises to revive peace negotiations.
Obama has said the US will veto the Palestinian request – expected to be made on Friday – for the security council to recognise a state based on the land occupied since the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The US president is also expected to speak out strongly against the move in his speech to the UN general assembly on Wednesday.
But Perry said that was not good enough, and blamed the president for bringing on the crisis by siding with the Palestinians over the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, and by saying the US would act as a neutral broker in talks.
Perry said: “The Obama policy of moral equivalence, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and the Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult. There is no middle ground between our allies and those who seek their destruction.
“We see the American administration having a willingness to isolate a close ally, and to do so in a manner that is both insulting and naive.”
Perry attacked Obama for his recent statement, which angered Israel, that any final peace agreement should be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war, even though it is widely accepted that will be the basis of a deal.
“It was wrong for this administration to suggest the 1967 borders should be the starting point for Israel-Palestinian negotiations,” Perry said. “The Obama administration put Israel in a position of weakness, taking away their flexibility to offer concessions as part of the negotiations process.
“Indeed, bolstered by the Obama administration’s policies and the apologists at the UN, the Palestinians are exploiting instability in the Middle East, hoping to achieve their objective without concessions and direct negotiations with Israel.”
Perry also criticised Obama’s handling of the revolutions in the Middle East, particularly in abandoning support for the former Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, who was a close ally of Israel.
The Texas governor spoke of the “risk posed by the new regime in Egypt”, which is not as sympathetic to Israel.
“The Obama administration has appeased the Arab street at the expense of our national security,” he said.
Perry’s attack is part of a growing Republican assault on Obama’s Israel policy as evidence he is weak, despite the administration’s success in finding Osama bin Laden.
Israel can be a sensitive political issue in the US, in part because of considerable support for the Jewish state among Christian evangelical voters.
Jewish voters tend to overwhelmingly support Democratic presidential candidates, but unhappiness over US policy on Israel can have an impact in swing states, most notably Florida, and on congressional elections.
Last week, Democrats suffered an upset, losing a New York congressional election to the Republicans in a heavily Jewish constituency. Although several factors were at play, particularly high unemployment and economic stagnation, polls showed that among some Jewish voters there was significant disquiet about Obama’s Israel policies.
More importantly, the issue is used by Obama’s opponents to accuse him of being soft on America’s enemies and incompetent.
Republicans in Congress are blaming the president for the Palestinian request to the security council because of a speech Obama made to the UN a year ago, in which he said he hoped to welcome a sovereign state of Palestine as a UN member by October 2010.
The Palestinians are portraying that statement as “Obama’s promise”. Republicans say it is further evidence that Obama is hostile to Israel.
Another leading presidential contender, Mitt Romney, last week said the Palestinian approach to the UN “is another testament of the president’s failure of leadership”.
Perry said that if the UN grants additional recognition to the Palestinians, the US should close the Palestinian Liberation Organisation office in Washington. Other Republicans want to go further, and cut of the more than $500m in aid the Palestinian Authority receives from the US each year.
The House of Representatives foreign affairs committee last week held a hearing on the issue in which the chairperson, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called for aid to be cut.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said at the UN on Tuesday that the Palestinians should be punished for taking the statehood bid to the security council.
“There should be consequences for irresponsible behaviour. There should be consequences for the Palestinians shutting the door on negotiations,” he said.
In the West Bank, which the Palestinians want the UN to declare part of their state, a call to Jewish settlers to rally against the move flopped when only a few dozen attended a series of marches against the Palestinians’ bid for statehood. Soldiers in riot gear watched as the protesters burned the Palestinian flag near Beit El, a settlement close to the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
“If the Palestinians want a state, they can go to Europe or the US – it’s very nice there,” said Michael Ben Ari, a member of the Israeli parliament. “This is the land of Israel and we are here forever.”
Hardline settlers have stepped up attacks on Palestinians and their property in the runup to the UN meeting, according to the Palestinian media, amid fears on both sides that they are trying to provoke confrontations. The Israeli security forces have stockpiled tear gas, rubber bullets and foul-smelling water cannon in preparation for possible violent demonstrations.
TEXT OF PERRY REMARKS
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 naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.
It must be said, first, that Israel is our oldest and strongest democratic ally in the Middle East and has been for more than 60 years. The Obama Policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a dangerous insult.
There is no middle ground between our allies and those who seek their destruction. America should not be ambivalent between the terrorist tactics of Hamas and the security tactics of the legitimate and free state of Israel. By proposing ‘indirect talks” through the U.S. rather than between Palestinian leaders and Israel, this administration encouraged the Palestinians to shun direct talks.
Second, it was wrong for this Administration to suggest the 1967 borders should be the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. When you consider this suggestion was made on the eve of the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit, we see in this American Administration a willingness to isolate a close ally and to do so in a manner that is insulting and naïve.
Third, by injecting the issue of 1967 borders in addition to a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements, the Obama Administration has put Israel in a position of weakness and taken away their flexibility to offer concessions as part of the negotiation process.
Indeed, bolstered by the Obama Administration’s policies and apologists at the UN, the Palestinians are exploiting the instability in the Middle East hoping to achieve their objective without concessions or direct negotiations with Israel.
The reason is simple: if they perceive they can get what they want from the UN without making any concessions why should they negotiate with Israel?
While the administration is right to finally agree to fight the Arab resolution at the UN, it bears repeating that we wouldn’t be here today if they had stuck to some basic principles concerning Palestinian statehood:
First, Palestinian leaders must publicly affirm Israel’s right to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state;
Second, President Abbas must persuade all factions including Hamas to renounce acts of terrorism and release kidnapped Israeli Gilad Shalit, and;
Third, Palestinian statehood must be established only through direct negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and the nation of Israel.
By not insisting on these principles, the Obama Administration has appeased the Arab Street at the expense of our own national security interests. They have sowed instability that threatens the prospects of peace.
Israel’s security is critical to America’s security. We must not forget it was Israel that took out the nuclear capabilities of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. In both instances, their actions made the free world safer.
Today, the greatest threat to the security of Israel and, by extension, a threat to America, is the Iranian government developing a nuclear arsenal. One thing is clear: we must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions must be tightened and increased and all options must remain on the table to stop a brutally repressive regime from acquiring a nuclear capability.
To date, we have fumbled our greatest opportunity for regime change. As average Iranian citizens were marching on Tehran in the Green Revolution in 2009, America was wasting precious time on a naïve policy of outreach to both the Iranian and Syrian governments.
Who knows what the leadership of Iran would look like today if America had done everything in its power to provide diplomatic and moral support to encourage the growing movement of dissidents who sought freedom.
Our actions in recent years have destabilized the Middle East. We have been complacent in encouraging revolt against hostile governments in Iran and Syria and we have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt and the increasingly strained relationship between Israel and Turkey.
It is vitally important for America to preserve alliances with moderate Muslim regimes and Muslim leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region. But today, neither adversaries nor allies alike, know where America stands.
Our muddle of a foreign policy has created greater uncertainty in the midst of the “Arab Spring.” And our policy of isolating and undermining Israel has only encouraged our adversaries in their aggression.
With the end-run on Palestinian statehood imminent before the UN, America must act swiftly.
First, every nation within the UN must know America stands with Israel and the Oslo accord principle of direct negotiations without equivocation.
Second, America must make it clear that a declaration of Palestinian Statehood in violation of the spirit of the Oslo accords could jeopardize our funding of UN operations.
Third, the Palestinians must know their gambit comes with consequences in particular that America will have to reconsider the $4 billion in assistance we have provided to the Palestinians over the last 17 years.
Fourth, we should close the PLO office in Washington if the UN grants the standing of a Palestinian state.
And fifth, we must signal to the world, including nations like Turkey and Egypt whom we have considered allies in recent years, that we won’t tolerate aggression against Israel.
Israel is our friend and ally. I have traveled there several times, and met with its leaders. It is not a perfect nation, but its existence is critical to America’s security in the world.
It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel, and in the process establish a robust American position in the Middle East characterized by a new firmness and a new resolve.
If America does not head off the aggression of forces hostile to Israel we will only embolden them.
That would be a tragic mistake.
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