HANOVER, N.H. – Republicans looking to unseat President Barack Obama charged that he undermined the sensitive and delicate negotiations for Middle East peace with his outline for resumed talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Obama, whom he served as U.S. ambassador to China until last month, undercut an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to build trust. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Obama “threw Israel under the bus” and handed the Palestinians a victory even before negotiations between the parties could resume. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called it “the most dangerous speech ever made by an American president for the survival of Israel.”
Foreign policy has hardly been the center of the debate among the still-forming GOP presidential field. Instead, the candidates and potential candidates have kept their focus — like the country’s — on domestic issues that are weighing on voters and their pocketbooks. Obama’s speech Thursday provided one of the first opportunities for Republicans to assert their foreign policy differences with Obama and his Democratic administration.
Obama endorsed Palestinians’ demands for the borders of its future state based on 1967 borders — before the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. That was a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy.
Campaigning here in the state that hosts the first presidential nominating primary, Huntsman also said the United States should respect Israel and work to foster trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
“If we respect and recognize Israel as the ally that it is, we probably ought to listen to what they think is best,” said Huntsman, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before surprising his party and serving Obama, a Democrat.
He acknowledged he didn’t watch Obama’s speech and was reacting to news coverage — or, as he called it, “the aftermath.”
“It is disrespectful of Israel for America to dictate negotiating terms to our ally,” Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It is not appropriate for the president to dictate the terms.”
Instead, the United States should work with Israel to push for peace without acceding to the Palestinians, he said.
Gingrich said Israel simply cannot go back to the 1967 borders and expect to remain secure, given technological advancements that would allow its enemies to fire rockets deeper into the state.
“Get a map of the region and look at what Hamas does in firing missiles into Israel,” Gingrich told The Associated Press. “The president should have said that Hamas has to abandon its determination to destroy Israel.”
Obama urged Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation based on “permanent occupation.” That follows what other Republicans have painted as hostility from this administration toward a stalwart ally in the Middle East.
“The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies,” Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said in a statement.
Obama’s speech at the State Department addressed the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Speaking to audiences abroad and at home, he sought to leave no doubt that the U.S. stands behind the protesters who have swelled from nation to nation across the Middle East and North Africa.
“We know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith,” the president said.
But the remarks only muddied things, especially on the dicey issue of Jerusalem, said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided,” Pawlenty said. “At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite who is leaning toward a run, called the border suggestions “a shocking display of betrayal” to Israel.
“Today President Barack Obama has again indicated that his policy towards Israel is to blame Israel first,” she said in a statement.
On Twitter, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin didn’t directly address the speech but urged Obama to publicly welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instead of ushering him into private meetings away from reporters, as has occurred on Netanyahu’s previous visits. The two leaders will talk Friday at the White House.
“Dear Mr. President, please allow our ally, PM Netanyahu, to respectfully arrive through the front door this time. Thanks, Concerned Americans,” she tweeted.