The leading Republican presidential candidates have a one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During the Florida presidential debate, a Palestinian American asked the contenders how they would help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most GOP candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich reacted defensively.
Romney said, “Well, the reason that there’s not peace” is the “leadership of the Palestinian people” whose intent is “the elimination of Israel.” He added that Palestinians do not “want a two-state solution,” and that President Obama “threw Israel under the bus” by criticizing Israeli settlements and advocating the “1967 borders.”
Has the former governor never heard of the 2002 peace plan of 22 Arab states, which proposes to normalize relations with Israel based on a two-state solution?
Gingrich continued the assault. Palestine “was technically an invention of the late 1970s,” he stated. Before that, the Palestinians “were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian, or Jordanian.”
Has the former House speaker never heard of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which calls for “the establishment in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people”? At that time, 90 percent of the residents of Palestine were Palestinians.
Rick Santorum is no better. He recently said that the West Bank was “part of Israel.”
Ron Paul, as usual, thinks differently. He would cut off aid to Israel, and he denounces as “war propaganda” the discussion of whether Israel should bomb Iran.
Unlike Paul, the other candidates are intent on soliciting support from the American Jewish community and exploiting the fear factor of Islam throughout the country.
The majority of Jewish Americans have, in the past, voted — and generously financed — the Democratic presidential candidates. In 2008, 78 percent of the Jewish vote went to Obama. But in this electoral campaign, Republican strategists see an opportunity to gain a bigger share of that vote.
The candidates are also trading on the widespread hostility toward Islam. Gingrich recently said: “I think we need to have a government that respects our religions.” He then went on to criticize Obama for being tolerant. “I’m a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every other religion on the planet,” said Gingrich. “I’d like him to respect our religion.” He seemed to forget that the U.S. Constitution forbids a state religion, and that people of all faiths practice here.
Gingrich, Romney and Santorum often point to Hamas as the dominating face of Palestinian society. What they don’t understand is how Israel’s expanding settlements and continued occupation of Arab land have created the conditions for the resurgence of Hamas.
Romney and Gingrich seem to be making progress in winning the Jewish vote. They have portrayed Obama as a Palestinian ally. But in turning their backs on the peace process, they are serving neither Israel’s security nor U.S. interests in the region.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, a social scientist and political commentator on the Middle East, is the former secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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