GOP Front Runners Unite Behind Israel
Israel provided a rare moment of unity at the CNN-sponsored Republican debate in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both sought to woo critical Jewish voters in the sunshine state.
During the debate Jacksonville resident Abraham Hassan asked the candidates, "How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people?”
“As a Palestinian American Republican I'm here to tell you we do exist,” Hassan challenged.
But neither candidate was impressed by the so-called "Palestinian American Republican" electorate in the United States.
Romney, who ran a "don't upset the applecart" style campaign prior to being dealt a stinging 10-point defeat by Gingrich in South Carolina, sought to stake out a decidedly pro-Israel position while charging that U.S. President Barack Obama "threw Israel under a bus."
"Well, the reason that there's not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas who have as their intent the elimination of Israel," Romney said.
"And whether it's in schoolbooks that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.
"There are some people who say should we have a two state solution, and the Israelis would be happy to have a two state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two state solution, they want to eliminate the state of Israel.
"And I believe America must say the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and appease, but it is to say we stand with our friend Israel.
"We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.
"This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
"This president threw (applause) … I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the 67 borders as the starting point of negotiations.
"I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bibi Netanyahu.
"I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel and that has created in my view a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians.
"I will stand with our friend Israel," Romney concluded.
Gingrich, who is known for his from-the-hip and in-your-face rhetoric, has been staunchly pro-Israel throughout his campaign and was forced to agree, saying "Governor Romney is exactly right."
The former House speaker then sought to personalize Israel's security concerns for the audience.
"There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November," Gingrich told them. "Now, imagine in Duvall County (in Florida) that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war?"
He then pointed the finger for the ongoing conflict directly as leaders in Gaza City and Ramallah. "They can achieve [peace] any morning they are prepared to say, 'Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side, now let's work together to create mutual prosperity."
The former House speaker also repeated his pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv should he be elected president. Its current location is meant to symbolize American neutrality in the peace talks.
"On the first day that I'm president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we're with Israel," Gingrich said.