Romney would make U.S.-Israel ties stronger, warmer

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
By: Matt Brooks, RJC Executive Director

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the passionately pro-Israel members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition that he would “do the opposite” of the things President Obama has done regarding Israel, the room erupted in applause. They understood exactly what he meant, because they know that the Obama administration has not strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship; President Obama has brought that strategic alliance to its lowest point in decades.

Let’s review a little history.

President Obama began his presidency with a Middle East outreach tour that excluded Israel and had as its high point his major speech in Cairo. President Obama told the Muslim world that Israel’s creation was the result of the tragedy in Europe (meaning the Holocaust), echoing the Muslim language that delegitimizes the Jewish state as a European implant in the region. He also said that Israeli settlements were illegitimate.

The President followed that up with a sustained public attack on Israeli settlement policy that was much harsher than we’d seen since the days of Jimmy Carter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that even “natural growth” should not be permitted within Israeli towns beyond the Green Line, even in areas within or just outside of Jerusalem. The 2004 Bush-Sharon letter said that certain areas outside the 1949 armistice lines should become part of Israel in a future negotiated settlement because of “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” The Obama administration rejected the plain meaning of that letter.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to an unprecedented 10-month freeze on settlement construction, the Obama administration put no pressure on the Palestinians to respond and they never came to the negotiating table during that time. At the end of the 10 months, the Palestinians insisted that the freeze continue before they would join in negotiations, and the Obama administration fully backed their demand, without making any demands on the Palestinians or holding them accountable for things they had already committed to do.

In March of 2010, a routine Israeli government announcement of one step in the planning process for new homes in a Jerusalem neighborhood was made while Vice President Biden was visiting Jerusalem. It was an indelicate slip-up, given the Obama administration’s stance on settlements. In response, the Obama administration went full-bore in condemning Israel in the strongest diplomatic terms possible. Secretary of State Clinton read the riot act to the Prime Minister in a scathing, 45-minute phone call made public by her office. David Axelrod went on the weekend talk shows to call the announcement an “insult.” That heated condemnation of Israel came as Palestinians were working toward a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The Obama administration said nothing about that, saving all their venom and vitriol for Israel.

In the spring of 2011, President Obama made a speech that blindsided Prime Minister Netanyahu just hours before he arrived in this country for another summit meeting. The President fundamentally changed U.S. policy by saying, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” By setting the armistice lines as the baseline for negotiations and implying that both Israel and the Palestinians would have to “swap” land tit-for-tat, President Obama made the Palestinians’ intransigent, revisionist position into U.S. policy. Even leading Democrats in Congress protested the President’s words.

At the United Nations, where the U.S. has long defended Israel, the Obama administration has sharply criticized Israel to the international community. When the Security Council has considered anti-Israel resolutions, President Obama has often refused to defend Israel during the debate. When he has ordered a U.S. veto, his UN ambassador has used it as an opportunity to publicly criticize Israeli settlement policy in the sharpest of terms.

In the first three years of his term, President Obama inserted plenty of “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. Only recently, when the President’s Jewish support began eroding dramatically in the polls, has the administration backed away from its cold, often belligerent treatment of Israel. The military assistance and cooperation, the diplomatic words, and the other things that President Obama’s publicists are now touting, are the very least that one would expect from an American President, given that the American people and Congress are such unwavering, staunch supporters of a strong Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel alliance. It’s when the words really count and when the time for action comes that the Obama administration has been woefully lacking a pro-Israel record.

Mitt Romney’s record would be just the opposite; pro-Israel and based on a real commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.