Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s unscripted style landed him in uncomfortable territory Thursday at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum, where he questioned Israel’s commitment to a lasting peace deal and got booed for refusing to say whether he supported recognizing Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel.
Mr. Trump said that while Israel has given up a lot, he’s not sure if Israel — or Palestine — has the “commitment” to come to a lasting peace agreement.
“Now, I said you have to have a commitment to make it,” Mr. Trump said at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum in Washington. “I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make it, and I don’t know that the other side has the commitment to make it.”
In an interview with The Associated Press published earlier Thursday, Mr. Trump said there was a “real question” as to whether or not both sides want to make a deal.
“A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things,” Mr. Trump told the AP. “They may not be, and I understand that, and I’m OK with that. But then you’re just not going to have a deal.”
Mr. Trump’s 2016 GOP rivals didn’t pass up the opportunity to pounce on those remarks.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida alluded to them during his own address before the group, which hosted all 14 GOP presidential candidates at the forum Thursday.
“Some in our own party — some in our own party, in the news today — have actually questioned Israel’s commitment to peace. Some in our own party have actually called for more sacrifice from the Israeli people,” said Mr. Rubio. “They are dead wrong, and they don’t understand the enduring bond between Israel and America.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also alluded to Mr. Trump’s remarks without mentioning his name.
“I sometimes hear people — even Republican candidates for president — who say things that I find just head-scratching,” Mr. Huckabee said. “When they say, ‘Well, I think that there’s possibility for peace in the Middle East, but only if Israel will sit down and try to work with the Palestinians’ … I want to say ‘Where have you been for the past 70 years?’
“And I most certainly don’t want to hear anybody say that the Israelis just need to give up some things and then they can have peace,” he said. “I want to remind you that it is Israel that has consistently and repeatedly given up, given up, given up, given up and gotten nothing in return.”
Mr. Huckabee and others have also offered support for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an intensely debated proposal among pro-Israel advocacy groups.
“The United States must finally make the definitive statement of who it’s taking sides with, and move its embassy to Jerusalem and once and for all declare we know who our peace partner in the Middle East is, and it is Israel,” Mr. Huckabee said.
But when asked if he would support recognizing Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel, Mr. Trump, who says he’s traveling to Israel soon, said he wants to wait until he meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prompting a smattering of boos from some in the crowd.
“I know, I know what you’re saying,” Mr. Trump said back. “Who’s the wise guy? Do me a favor: Just relax, OK? You’ll like me very much, believe me, OK? Then you wonder why you get yourself in trouble, all right? You’re going to like me very much. It’s gonna be fine.”