America should not aspire to be an “honest broker” in the Middle East, but rather communicate to the world that while it wants an honest and fair solution to the conflict, “we are on the side of Israel,” Indiana Governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence said in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Pence, speaking at a town hall meeting sponsored by Republicans Abroad Israel, said the US can “deal honestly with people on all sides of the equation” while making clear what “side of the table” it is on.
Afterward, in a brief interview with The Jerusalem Post, Pence dismissed the oft heard claims that under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu US-Israeli relations reached an all-time low.
“I think relations between the American people and Israel have never been stronger,” he said. “I really believe that after a year where Israel saw 51 days of war, with Iranian nuclear ambitions unimpeded, with the rise of a terrorist army in Syria, now more than ever the American people feel a great bond of support with the people of Israel. I think that will be reflected consistently when the congress convenes in January.”
Pence, an Evangelical Christian who came to Israel last week for a nine-day visit – partly to spend Christmas in the Holy Land with his family, and partly on official business – said he told Netanyahu in their meeting on Monday that “Israel is not just our strongest allies in the region, Israel is our most cherished ally in the world.
“If the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with Israel,” said Pence.
Pence, who spent 12 years in Congress – a decade of that on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – won the Indiana gubernatorial election in 2012. His name is consistently mentioned among possible 2016 Republican candidates, something he does not deny.
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He has said that he will make his intentions regarding the 2016 race known after the Indiana legislative session adjourns in April.
Pence strongly dismissed the notion that support of Israel was waning in Congress or among the American public.
“If you want to know how the American people feel about Israel, do not look at shifting sands of policies and statements by individuals in the administration, look at Congress, and you will see overwhelming and bipartisan support for Israel in the Congress, and I think that will continue for many years to come,” he said.
During his comments, Pence said that the US “must reject any effort by the United Nations Security Council to impose conditions on negotiations that would undermine Israel’s security.”
He called on Congress, when it comes back into session with a Republican majority in both houses in mid-January, to put a firm deadline on negotiations with Iran. If an agreement is not reached within a “reasonable period of time,” Congress should mandate that all sanctions come back into play, he said. “I believe that the time has come for us to stand strong and firm on behalf of very strong sanctions against Iran,” he said.
He also said that the US should renew production of the state-of the-art F22 Raptor stealth fighter, discontinued in 2012, and consider making it available to Israel to enable it to evade Russian-supplied radar and anti-missile systems that Moscow has said it will make available to Iran.
During his visit here, Pence declined an invitation on Christmas Eve to meet in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We were very pleased to have the opportunity to travel to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and to celebrate a very special holiday in that very holy place,” he told the Post.
“We were also very privileged and very grateful to be invited by the local Palestinian leadership to attend a large banquet, and we did so. We we did receive an invitation later in the evening for a private meeting [with Abbas], but we went on ahead with our plans to go to the Church of the Nativity and go to services.”
In a 2010 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pence assailed the Obama administration for its attitude toward Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I believe the Obama administration is the most anti-Israel administration in the modern history of the state of Israel and our relationship with her,” he said.
Repeatedly calling Israel “our most cherished ally,” Pence said “the American people support Israel’s right to self-defense. The American people support the Jewish state of Israel, and the American people expect the American president to unambiguously do the same.”
Speaking soon after US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the brickbats over plans to build more housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem, Pence said, “I’ll be honest with you: I never thought I’d live to see the day that an American administration would denounce the Jewish state of Israel for rebuilding Jerusalem.
But in the wake of the dispute over the construction of apartment buildings in a certain area of Jerusalem, we saw just that. And the American people are fed up with it.”
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