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Republican candidates talk Israel, United Nations

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Israel wasn’t a major focus of the Republican presidential debate Sept. 22, although two of the candidates got a chance to state their strong support for the nation, a day before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas officially applied to the United Nations for statehood recognition.

The effort for Palestinian statehood is almost certain to fail because the United States has pledged to veto any application that reaches the U.N. Security Council.

The same day Abbas spoke to the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the same body, stating that Israel was “prepared to make painful compromises” but only after Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist.

During his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 21, President Obama made clear he favors a Palestinian state but said it would not come through a “short cut” — an allusion to a U.N application.

“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem,” Obama said.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney was asked at the Republican debate how he would approach the “new reality in the Middle East,” specifically in regard to Israel and the threats it faces “from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and now the Palestinian Authority.”

“You start off by saying that you don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and your allies,” Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said. “The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for America. He addressed the United Nations in his inaugural address [in 2009] and chastised our friend, Israel, for building settlements and said nothing about Hamas launching thousands of rockets into Israel…. [I]f you disagree with an ally, you talk about it privately. But in public, you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your allies.

Romney added, “The right course for us is not to try and negotiate for Israel. The right course is to stand behind our friends, to listen to them and to let the entire world know that we will stay with them and that we will support them and defend them.”

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, was asked how he would respond to the Palestinian Authority’s request at the U.N. for statehood.

“It starts with an extension of the Reagan philosophy of peace through strength. My philosophy would extend that to peace through strength and clarity,” Cain said. “This administration has not made it clear how it stands with Israel.”

Cain then recounted a meeting he had with Israel’s deputy prime minister last month.

“[H]e … made it real clear that he wasn’t sure how this administration stood when it came to Israel,” Cain said. “I made it clear, which — and I would also make it clear to all of the other people in the world, that if you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the United States of America. We will stand solidly behind Israel.”

Cain added, “If in fact it was clear to the Palestinians where the United States stood, they might have had second thoughts about trying to pull such a move without negotiating with Israel.”

Romney and Cain were the only two candidates asked about Israel. Earlier in the week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another GOP candidate, had accused Obama of a “policy of appeasement” toward the Palestinians. He also wrote columns for The Wall Street Journal and The Jerusalem Post defending Israel and criticizing the Palestinian move.

“The United States must affirm that the precondition for any properly negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the formal recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state behind secure borders,” Perry wrote. “Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the US has provided more than $4 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This year alone the Obama administration is seeking to secure $550 million in funding for Palestinians. The United States has an interest in the development of Palestinian civil society and institutions.”

Perry added, “We should encourage Palestinians who are more interested in building a prosperous future than in fueling the grievances of the past. Our aid is, and must remain, predicated on the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to engage honestly and directly with the Israelis in negotiating a peace settlement.”
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.

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