In a debate held in Jacksonville, Florida this past Thursday, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination improbably found a subject of agreement: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The respective campaigns of Romney and Gingrich have artfully attacked each other in the course of the Republican race; a super PAC in support of Romney, Restore our Future, debilitated Gingrich’s performance in the Iowa caucuses, and Winning our Future, a super PAC advocating Gingrich, played a significant role in his victory in the South Carolina primary on January 21. But when a Palestinian-American member of the audience inquired the candidates about Palestine in Thursday’s debate, Romney and Gingrich converged in their criticism of the Palestinians and ardent support of the Jewish State of Israel.
“How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian American Republican I’m here to tell you we do exist,” asked Abraham Hassan of Jacksonville. Hassan’s seemingly superfluous addition of “we do exist” was a reference to a statement made by Gingrich earlier in his campaign, where he dubbed the Palestinians an “invented people.”
“Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is in the leadership of the Palestinian people Hamas and others who think like Hamas who have as their intent the elimination of Israel,” Romney first responded. “And whether it’s in schoolbooks that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.”
Romney noted how the problem lies not in the United States’ refusal to recognize Palestine, but in the Palestinian’s uncompromising rejection of the State of Israel. “There are some people who say should we have a two state solution, and the Israelis would be happy to have a two state solution,” he explained.” It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two state solution; they want to eliminate the state of Israel.”
After signaling his support for Israel, Romney undermined President Obama’s efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. “This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements,” he began. “He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
“This president threw … I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the 67 borders as the starting point of negotiations,” Romney added. “I think he has, time and time again, shown distance from Israel and that has created in my view a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians.”
The candidate capped off his response by expressing his general position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “I will stand with our friend Israel,” Romney asserted.
Though the greater portion of his comments was well received, Romney’s criticism of President Obama was subsequently challenged as inaccurate and unfounded.
“Governor Romney said that the President castigated Israel during his speech at the United Nations in September. He did no such thing,” read a statement released by the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Mr. Romney said the President made no reference to the ‘thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip;’ indeed, President Obama specifically cited how ‘Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses’ on the world stage of the United Nations in September,” wrote Council President David A. Harris. “Enough is enough. The outright lies, smears and distortions of President Obama’s stellar Israel record must stop.”
While Romney chose to attack President Obama, Gingrich responded to Hassan’s inquiry by underscoring the Palestinians hostile activity and the relevant obstacles to peace.
“There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, ‘you know, that looks like an act of war?’” Gingrich asked the audience. With the unyielding use of violence and a vitriolic ideology aimed at obliterating the Jewish State, the former Speaker of the House expressed his concern the conflict was currently an irreconcilable matter. “The leadership in Hamas says not a single Jew will remain. Well, you’re not having a peace negotiation, then. This is war by another form.”
Gingrich suggested peace would only result when Palestinians recognize the existence of the Jewish State. “My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom, and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say: Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we’re going to live side by side,” he elaborated. “Now let’s work together to create mutual prosperity, and you could, in five years, dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian.”
Defending his controversial claim concerning the Palestinians, Gingrich then cemented his unwavering advocacy for Israel by making an unusual promise. “On the first day that I am president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we’re with Israel.”
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