Israel to be major subject of US political debate in 2012

Analysis: Romney puts Israel at center of presidential campaign speech; Emanuel: Obama doesn’t want return to 1967 borders.

June 5, 2011 01:44
4 minute read.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – When Mitt Romney declared his intention to run for president of the United States on Thursday, he devoted just three sentences in his 20-minute address to Israel. But they were enough to indicate that the Republicans see the Jewish state as a major line of attack in the 2012 campaign: They were three of only nine sentences total devoted to foreign policy.

On Friday, former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel devoted an entire oped in The Washington Post to his former boss’s support for Israel. That was more than enough to indicate that the Democrats are concerned that the GOP tactic might yield dividends.

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Rahm Emanuel: Obama doesn't mean return to 1967 lines
Romney: Obama treating Israel with suspicion, distrust

The vast majority of the remarks delivered by Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is widely seen as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, were focused on the economy and fears of American decline that are likely to dominate the elections.

His speech was blueprint for the ways in which he plans to go after US President Barack Obama, and was thus particularly telling for the international subjects he chose to include – criticism for Obama’s tour to “apologize” to the world; setting a timetable on an Afghanistan withdrawal; being too timid in his response to the Arab Spring; and Israel.

Criticizing Obama for hesitating to back dissidents leading the Arab revolts, Romney said, “He speaks with firmness and clarity, however, when it comes to Israel, he seems firmly and clearly determined to undermine our longtime friend and ally. He’s treating Israel the same way so many European countries have: with suspicion, distrust and an assumption that Israel is somehow at fault.”

Israel was the foreign policy issue to which Romney gave the longest and fullest treatment, which would not have been the case if he didn’t see it as a place to score points.

Given that he was speaking to a loyal crowd in rural New Hampshire, it would seem that he doesn’t only think these sentiments could help win over Jewish voters but Republicans writ large, and perhaps particularly the evangelical constituency he is eager to court.

And he wasn’t the only one to take this approach.

At a weekend gathering of GOP presidential hopefuls – declared and considering – Israel was again on the agenda.

At the Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington Friday, Minnesota Rep.

Michele Bachmann, who many expect to soon announce her candidacy, spoke of supporting Israel, as she also did two weeks ago at a reception at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been actively trying to stem the flow of any loss of political support after Obama’s recent controversial comments that the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps should form the basis of a Palestinian state.

Newly elected head of the Democratic National Committee and strong pro-Israel voice Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a representative from Florida, has been speaking out about Obama’s backing for the Jewish state. And Danielle Borrin, who does Jewish outreach for the Obama administration, circulated the link to a new White House website section “designed to answer any questions about President Obama’s commitment to advancing Israel’s security and supporting peace.”

The most high-profile push-back, however, came from Emanuel, who made a rare appearance on the editorial pages of The Washington Post to write about his former boss’s support of Israel.

“As I listened to the president’s speech on the Middle East, I heard him reaffirm his strong commitment to Israel’s safety, security and prosperity,” Emanuel wrote of the address that included the reference to the 1967 lines. “He said the US relationship with Israel is unshakable. He said that the conflict cannot be resolved through unilateral actions or a UN vote establishing a Palestinian state but only through negotiations between the parties.”

Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, also directly responded to the 1967 lines brouhaha.

“The president stated a concept that has been the basis of every serious attempt at resolution since the negotiations President Bill Clinton held at Camp David in 2000. He reminded us that every president and many Israeli elected leaders have recognized that the borders are one starting point for negotiations, not the end point,” he noted, stressing that, “That statement does not mean a return to 1967 borders. No workable solution envisions that.”

While Jewish leaders have in the past gone to great lengths to stress the nature of bipartisan support for Israel, and have often made the case that party bickering over the issue could be dangerous, it seems unlikely to be left out of the conversation over 2012. And that conversation could soon turn into a very loud argument indeed.

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