FACT CHECK: GOP candidates overreach on Israel
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — The Palestinian bid to win U.N. recognition is focusing attention on the Obama administration’s Mideast policy, which Republican presidential candidates say is all wrong.
Presenting themselves as stronger advocates for Israel, leading GOP hopefuls are turning the Middle East peace process into a foreign policy campaign issue in a political season so far dominated by unemployment, taxes and the stagnant U.S. economy.
Yet as the administration fights fiercely on behalf of Israel this week, pressing the Palestinians to abandon their quest for statehood, some of the Republican claims have strayed well beyond reality.
The diplomatic tussling ahead of a possible United Nations vote comes after the recent GOP win in a special New York congressional election, which suggested some problems ahead for Obama with traditionally Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.
A look at some of the statements by the candidates and how they compare with the facts:
MITT ROMNEY: “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.”
THE FACTS: This statement, delivered with regularity since Obama’s May speech outlining his vision of a two-state solution, comes at an odd moment.
The Obama administration is working feverishly against the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood bid, lobbying world governments to vote down the plan. It is cajoling Turkey to repair ties with the Jewish state. It recently helped de-escalate tensions after Egyptian protesters stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, winning praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. And it has made sure that Egypt’s new authorities honor all existing peace agreements with Israel.
This week’s very public American campaigning on behalf of Israel has strengthened relations between the countries. And with Israel feeling increasingly isolated among its neighbors, Obama officials have taken on the mantle of doing its diplomatic bidding. There may be some Israeli officials who feel Obama has promised too much to the Palestinians or pushed too quickly, but few if any who feel right now that he has abandoned the Jewish state.
RICK PERRY: “Errors by the Obama administration have encouraged the Palestinians to take backward steps away from peace. It was a mistake to call for an Israeli construction freeze, including in Jerusalem, as an unprecedented precondition for talks.”
THE FACTS: This is a one-sided and parochial assessment of the impasse. U.S. officials and mediators from other countries have blamed both sides for failing to advance the peace process. Europeans and others aren’t blaming the U.S. for the difficulty.
The U.S. government long has considered Israeli housing construction in lands it conquered in 1967 — lands the Palestinians want to include in their future state — as illegitimate. Yet despite being disappointed by resumed Israeli settlement expansion, the Obama administration vetoed a U.N. resolution condemning the Jewish state. And it has continuously pressed for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, despite not securing any Israeli commitment to reverse policy.
MICHELLE BACHMANN: “Obama called upon Israel to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders.”
THE FACTS: Obama’s vision for a two-state solution foresees the Israelis and Palestinians agreeing on a new border, so they would draw the map themselves.
Bachmann and other critics of the president have ignored his reference to “mutually agreed swaps” of land, meaning that Israel’s pre-1967 borders would serve only as a starting point and that the two sides would have to define the boundary themselves. Obama himself has said the 1967 line is indefensible and would constitute an unrealistic aspiration for Palestinians.
Obama’s vision, long a privately articulated part of American foreign policy, has been endorsed by the other major Middle East peace mediators — the European Union, United Nations and Russia. More importantly, it’s backed by the majority of Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
PERRY: “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.”
THE FACTS: The administration has never said nor suggested that settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, or any other Israeli policy, is equally as heinous as Hamas rockets or other attacks aimed at Israeli citizens.
However, Obama officials have tried to give public weight to the grievances of each side, without offering either as a moral justification for harmful deeds.
For Israelis, the administration says it understands the difficulty of living without security and in a hostile neighborhood. And it cites the ordeal of Palestinians living under occupation, with difficult economic prospects and without control over their own lives.
The effort at empathy does not extend to terrorists. Obama has maintained the unconditional blacklisting of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon as terrorist organizations and backed Israel’s right to target extremists bent on threatening its security.