September 20, 2011

Rick Perry on Israel and the Palestinians

I hate digging deep into issues related to Israel and the Palestinians, but since this is the hardest statement on foreign policy yet issued by the Perry campaign, here we go:

Thank you. Let me begin by thanking Dr. Solomon Frager and Aron Hirtz for helping us organize this press conference today.


I am joined today by a diverse group of Jewish leaders from here and abroad who share my concern that the United Nations could take action this week to legitimize the Palestinian gambit to establish statehood in violation of the spirit of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

This diverse group of Jewish leaders included at least two Israelis, Danny Danon and Pesach Lerner, who do not support the two-state solution championed most notably in the 1993 Oslo Accords. The former, who preceded Gov. Perry at the lecturn, apparently used his opportunity to praise the hilltop settlers in "Judea and Samaria" -- more commonly known as "the Occupied Palestinian Territories." Why is there no penalty for fraternizing with Israeli extremists?

We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direct negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership, and we are equally indignant that the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith.

Who, exactly, has been appeased is left unspoken.

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.

I cannot find an instance in which any mainstream U.S. politician, let alone a member of this administration (in which Dennis Ross and Joe Biden are employed), has given equal standing to the grievances of the Israeli and Palestinian people -- much less orchestrators of terrorism. (Although both Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat -- both terrorists by any shared definition of the word, both also recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize -- have been received at the White House.)

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.

I agree.

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.

The bit about the 1967 borders has been the policy of every U.S. administration dating back to Sec. of State William Rogers. (I should also note the United States was a signatory to UNSCR 242 in 1967.) Here is a great history
of U.S. involvement in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that someone on the Perry campaign should read.

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.

I understand, though, why the border issue chafes some Israelis. The Israelis -- especially this government -- view borders as the issue on which Israel must compromise, much as the right of return is the issue on which Palestinians must compromise. The Netanyahu administration does not want to talk about the former in isolation of the latter.

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.

I actually think Perry is right that the Obama Administration was wrong to focus on settlements, though perhaps not for the reasons he thinks.

Indeed, bolstered by the Obama Administration’s policies and apologists at the U.N., the Palestinians are exploiting the instability in the Middle East hoping to achieve their objective without concessions or direct negotiations with Israel.

No, the Palestinians have simply lost faith in the ability of the United States to deliver Israeli concessions and believe they are dealing with the most extreme Israeli government in the history of the Jewish State. We have polling data, in fact, that support this.

The reason is simple: if they perceive they can get what they want from the U.N. 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 U.N., 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;

President Abbas is going to have a tough time convincing Hamas to do much of anything, though this is a reasonable demand, of course, of Israelis to the Palestinian people.

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.

I would say that the administration has some way to go if its goal is to appease the Arab Street. Has Rick Perry spoken with anyone on a street (hell, any street) in the Arabic-speaking world about U.S. policy?

They have sowed instability that threatens the prospects of peace.


Israel’s security is critical to America’s security.

This highly debatable. To say the least. There are a lot of good reasons to support our Israeli friends, but most national security analysts are not convinced by this particular argument.

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.

Yes, they did. I'll agree with that.

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.

This is what is so puzzling about the Netanyahu government, because it certainly feels this way, too, but if this is the case, why has it continually picked fights with the one power on Earth that can help it out on Iran? 

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.

Maybe. I'll let this pass, but I want to know what America should have done differently.

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.

Again, what would have made a difference in Iran in 2009? What could the United States have done that would have tipped the scales in favor of the dissidents? Military power? What?

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.

Who, I want to know, are the moderate Muslims? Are they the traditional U.S. allies in the Gulf or the Turks? The Saudis or the Egyptians?

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.

This administration has done a lot wrong. But it has never undermined Israel. It has consistently had Israel's back on everything from closer military cooperation and security guarantees to votes among international organizations like the United Nations. 

With the end-run on Palestinian statehood imminent before the U.N., America must act swiftly.


First, every nation within the U.N. must know America stands with Israel and the Oslo accord principle of direct negotiations without equivocation.

I think they are all already painfully clear on this.

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 U.N. 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.

I think this would be a poor decision. Go ask any Israeli military commander in the West Bank for his opinion of U.S.-trained Palestinian police forces and you will understand one reason why.

Fourth, we should close the PLO office in Washington if the U.N. 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.

Agreed. Although I do not think either nation has been contemplating any military action against the Jewish state.

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.

Again, I am not sure I have ever bought this argument. I would want to hear more from some of Israel's staunchest defenders as to why this is the case, because I am open to hearing other perspectives here.

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.

Well, our position will certainly be robust in one nation. Maybe not so robust in all the other countries.

If America does not head off the aggression of forces hostile to Israel we will only embolden them.


That would be a tragic mistake.

On that we can agree. I am not sure I bought much of anything in this argument, though.