Was Obama's Speech Too Tough on Israel? Republican Criticism Mounts

By Chaddock, Gail Russell | The Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Was Obama's Speech Too Tough on Israel? Republican Criticism Mounts


Chaddock, Gail Russell, The Christian Science Monitor


Congressional appropriators voiced doubts about some aspects of Obama's speech. But the most pointed criticism was from the GOP. 'Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,' Mitt Romney said.

Just three days after the Treasury announced that the United States had hit its own debt limit, President Obama proposed relieving a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt - a tough political sell to Americans struggling with their own debt burdens, and problematic, but not out of reach, for appropriators on Capitol Hill.

"Every 6,000 years you get an opportunity to create a democracy in Egypt, and you ought to take it," says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

To take the issue to American taxpayers at "at a time when South Carolina is flat broke" is a risk, he adds, but one he says he is willing to take. "The president captured the moment in which we live. These are historic times."

A much tougher sell will be the president's call Thursday for Israel to negotiate a return to pre-1967 borders, just five days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress while on his visit to Washington.

"The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome," the president said in his much anticipated Middle East policy address at the State Department. "The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation."

Several GOP presidential contenders slammed Mr. Obama's comments on Israel. "President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," said former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in a statement. "He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace."

Congressional Republicans picked up similar themes. "The president's reference to pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace undermines our ally Israel's negotiating position, demonstrates insensitivity to the security threats Israel faces on a daily basis, and ignores the historical context that has shaped the Israeli- Palestinian conflict for more than 60 years," said freshman Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the president for imposing "new pressure on Israel to make concessions on its borders," without calls on Palestinian leaders to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

Top Democrats defended the president's approach. "This speech was not intended to be a comprehensive statement on all aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations or US relations with both parties," said Rep. Howard Berman (D) of California, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "For example, I have full confidence that the administration would veto a unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN Security Council," he added.

Mr. Obama also affirmed US commitments to Israel's security, including assurances that the US will continue to stand against attempts to single out Israel for criticism in international forums.

"Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. …

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