GOP candidates Perry and Romney assail Obama on Israel

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NEW YORK (AP) — Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney waded into a tense foreign policy dispute Tuesday by criticizing the Palestinian Authority’s effort to seek a formal recognition of statehood by the U.N. General Assembly.

The Republican rivals also used the jockeying at the U.N. to assail President Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel.

Perry, the Texas governor and Republican front-runner, is pledging in a speech in New York strong support for Israel and criticizing Obama for demanding concessions from the Jewish state that Perry says emboldened the Palestinians to seek recognition by the U.N.

“We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direct negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership,” Perry said in excerpts provided by one of his aides to The Associated Press. “And we are equally indignant that the Obama administration’s Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith.”

In a written statement before Perry spoke, Romney called the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations this week an “unmitigated diplomatic disaster.” The former Massachusetts governor also accused Obama’s administration of “repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, heads to his vehicle after exiting the Papasito Restaurant in the Inwood section of the Manhattan borough of New York, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Wading into a tense foreign policy dispute, Mr. Perry and former Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday criticized the Palestinian Authority's effort to seek a formal recognition of statehood by the U.N. General Assembly. The GOP rivals also used the jockeying at the U.S. to assail President Barack Obama's policy toward Israel.  (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

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Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, heads to his vehicle ... more >

“That policy must stop now,” Romney said.

The two Republicans who lead in early polls for the Republican nomination, as well as their lesser-known opponents, are intent on showing they stand strongly behind Israel, an effort to appeal to Jewish voters and donors who play a pivotal role in presidential elections. So they’re trying to grab a share of the spotlight as the Palestinians push for statehood this week at the U.N.

Perry and Romney weighed in as Obama was in New York for meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly. He planned to meet later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. has promised a veto in the Security Council, but the Palestinians can press for a more limited recognition of statehood before the full — and much more supportive — General Assembly. The Obama administration has pushed hard for countries around the world to block the Palestinian bid, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday there was still time to avert a divisive showdown.

Obama has been criticized by Republicans and many pro-Israel activists for seeming to push the Jewish state harder than the Palestinians to make compromises to achieve peace. Among other things, Obama has called on Israel to cease building housing settlements in the West Bank and to negotiate the scope of the Palestinian state using 1967 borders as a starting point — a diplomatic position the U.S. has long maintained but one that has never before been explicitly embraced by a U.S. president.

Complaints about Obama’s Israel policy helped a Republican, Bob Turner, win a special election in a heavily Jewish and Democratic New York congressional district last week.

“It’s vitally important for America to preserve alliances with leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region,” Perry said in the speech. “But today, neither adversaries nor allies know where America stands. Our muddle of a foreign policy has created great uncertainty in the midst of the Arab Spring.”

Romney called on Obama to unequivocally reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and promise to cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians if they succeed in getting U.N. recognition. He also called for the United States to re-evaluate its funding of U.N. programs and its relationship with any nation voting in favor of recognition.

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Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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