JERUSALEM — On the seventh day of his Holy Land tour, Sen. Rand Paul continued to walk a fine line between expressing support for Israel while avoiding the impression that his support for the Jewish state is uncritical and self-serving.
The Kentucky senator shares his father’s limited government principles but says his eight days in Israel — one of which included a meeting on the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and, in Amman, with Jordan’s King Abdullah II — are designed to show he is not anti-Israel. Some Jewish Americans and born-again Christians often accused former Texas Rep. Ron Paul of indifference to Israel’s security.
“I’ve been accused of that, too, and part of the reason I’m here is to show I am not anti-Israel,” he said in a speech to the 53 people traveling wit him — most of them Christian conservatives but including some prominent Jewish Americans.
Many American evangelicals are as firmly pro-Israel as most Jewish Americans. He would need the support of both to make a successful run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — a run that some of those accompanying him here say he is launching with this trip.
Mr. Paul will also need the allegiance of many of his father’s libertarian-minded supporters, and they will look askance at any indication that the Kentucky Republican is putting Israel’s interests ahead of America’s in order to cultivate the evangelical and conservative Jewish vote.
The fine line to which Mr. Paul is attempting to hew includes making concrete suggestions while here about small steps that can be taken by the parties to the sometimes violent, 54-year-old Arab-Israeli dispute.
He came here, he said, with suggestions about how to break the massively complicated Middle East problems into smaller segments, to be solved one by one.
He said his suggestion for less Israeli restriction on trade between the West Bank, governed by elected leaders of the Palestine Liberation organization, and Gaza, governed by leaders of the even more militantly anti-Israel Hamas, were greeted skeptically by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and but more warmly by both the Palestinian president and the Jordanian king.
“But, I can understand Israel’s concerns for security in what I suggested,” Mr, Paul said. “And it may be we just have to wait or more a moderate government before opening trade and letting the Palestinians control their own tariffs.”
Mr. Paul disagreed with several Israeli leaders who told him there is no point in trying to deal with the Palestinians because of what the Israelis see as the Palestinians’ unremitting opposition to Israel’s existence.
In several speeches to various Israeli audiences and American evangelical groups in the past few days, Mr. Paul also expressed a modesty considered unusual for visiting politicians who come bearing solutions to their hosts’ problems.
“I know i don’t have all the answers,” he told his audiences. “I’m learning from you.”
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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