- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Republican presidential contender Rick Perry said Tuesday that the Palestinian pursuit of statehood through the United Nations is proof that President Obama has bungled the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Speaking in New York, the three-term Texas governor said it’s time to ditch the administration’s “Middle East policy of appeasement” and to reaffirm support for Israel and a Jewish state.

“The Obama policy of moral equivalency which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a dangerous insult,” Mr. Perry said, lambasting the Obama approach as “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”

The Democratic National Committee responded by pointing out that Mr. Obama has stated that the “commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad,” has urged the two sides to work toward a settlement deal through direct talks and has shielded Israel at times on the U.N. Security Council.

Meanwhile, Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Dannon, a leading hard-liner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told The Washington Times that the governor likely would visit Israel before the end of the year. Mr. Perry, an evangelical Christian looking to gain favor with Jewish voters, last visited Israel in 2009, when he received the Defender of Jerusalem Award, which is given to public figures who have shown support for Israel and its capital, Jerusalem.

Republicans have showered Mr. Obama with criticism ever since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that he plans to ignore the wishes of the U.S. by requesting statehood at the U.N. General Assembly session this week.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, Mr. Obama appointed former Maine Sen. George Mitchell as his special Middle East envoy and made him the point person with the unenviable task of trying to craft a settlement agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Mr. Mitchell previously had helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mitchell, though, resigned in March after the peace process stalled.

Five months later, and more than six decades after the U.N. first recognized Israel, Palestinians have decided to ask the international body to recognize an independent Palestinian state. “The Palestinians don’t believe Netanyahu will offer them a deal they can live with, even if they were to enter talks, particularly given the makeup of his coalition, and they don’t believe Obama can move him,” said David A. Halperin, program director for the Israel Policy Forum. “So instead they are trying to gain leverage — but the UN initiative is likely to make an already complex conflict even more difficult to untangle.”

He added, “The main culprit of the stalemate is a complete lack of trust on both sides.”

That decision has left the Obama administration struggling to maintain the president’s outreach to the Arab world while also trying to maintain the U.S.’s role as Israel’s chief advocate in international relations. The administration has vowed to use its Security Council veto to reject the proposal, which could come up for a vote as early as later this week, around the same time the Republican candidates for president gather in Florida for another televised debate and for a Conservative Political Action Committee meeting near Disney World.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another GOP presidential hopeful, also criticized the administration, calling the Palestinian effort an “unmitigated diplomatic disaster” and the “culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”

The political beef over Palestinian statehood has won some additional headlines following the special congressional election last week in New York, where a Republican seized disgraced Rep. Anthony D. Weiner’s seat and attributed the victory in part to Mr. Obama’s Israel policy.

On Tuesday, Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney said the president should make clear that if the Palestinian Authority succeeds in gaining any type of U.N. recognition, the U.S. should consider cutting foreign assistance to the Palestinians, and re-evaluate its funding of U.N. programs. Mr. Perry also said he would consider shuttering the PLO office in Washington.

Others, however, have warned that cutting off aid entirely could jeopardize security cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians, remove one of the tools of U.S. leverage and embolden terrorist groups, including Hamas.

Elliot Abrams, who served under presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that “some programs are very much in our own interest and Israel‘s, such as the security programs” and that “defunding them right now would make life harder for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Whatever the case, Mr. Perry said that in order for talks to proceed Palestinian leaders must affirm Israel’s right to exist and to exist as a Jewish state, and persuade Hamas to renounce all acts of terrorism and to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Finally, they should seek statehood solely through direct negotiations with Israel, he said.

“By not insisting on these principles, the Obama administration has appeased the ‘Arab street’ at the expense of our own national security interests,” he said.