Embracing Israel, GOP candidates take aim at Obama

By Beth Fouhy and Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 20 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, center is surrounded by security, right, and supporters after a news conference in New York on Tuesday.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and their GOP presidential rivals slammed President Barack Obama's Middle East policies Tuesday while emphatically declaring their ownsupport for Israel as the United Nations considered a bid for Palestinian statehood.

Republican front-runner Perry, the Texas governor, denounced the president's Israel policy as "misguided and dangerous," speaking to supporters in New York as the Obama administration worked a few miles away to thwart a U.N. vote to grant formal recognition to the Palestinian Authority.

Perry also accused Obama of appeasement, as did Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who assailed the president from the Midwest.

Perry's chief rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, issued a statement accusing Obama of "throwing Israel under the bus."

The Republican campaigns have similar goals: establish contrasts with Obama on an issue where he's struggled; chip away at American Jews' support for Democrats and prove their conservative, pro-Israel bona fides with the evangelical voters who will play a significant role in the GOP presidential primaries.

During the 2008 election campaign, Obama worked hard to reassure nervous Jewish voters that he would defend Israel as president. But he's faced doubts and criticism since then.

Perry criticized Obama's stated goal that any negotiations should be based on Israel's borders prior to the 1967 Mideast war, with mutually agreed adjustments and land swaps to accommodate population shifts and some homebuilding since 1967. Perry called that stance "insulting and na?e."

Obama angered Israel earlier this year by endorsing a Palestinian demand that negotiations over future borders begin with the lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967.

In regard to potential official recognition, the administration has been working intensively behind the scenes to restart direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and to persuade Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to drop his push and avoid an explosive confrontation at the U.N. later in the week.

But Perry had strong criticism nonetheless, speaking to a group of ultraconservative Jewish and Israeli leaders at a New York hotel.

"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 na?e, arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said, flanked by U.S. and Israeli flags. "The Obama administration has appeased the Arab Street at the expense of our own national security interests. They have sowed instability that threatens the prospect of peace."

Romney said, "What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster. It is the culmination of President Obama's repeated efforts over three years to undermine its negotiating position." He called for an end to U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if the U.N. vote went the Palestinians' way.

The candidates' remarks represented their efforts to win over the conservative and evangelical voters who care deeply about GOP support for Israel. They back Israel as a U.S. ally in the fight against terror and as a rare democracy in the volatile Mideast. Some also support Israel for theological reasons.

Perry told reporters his support for Israel was in part driven by his religious faith.

"I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it's pretty easy," Perry said when a reporter asked if Perry's faith was driving his views. "Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel."

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