(CNN) – Rick Perry Tuesday jumped directly into the battle over possible statehood for Palestinians, slamming President Barack Obama for his policy toward Israel and how he’s handled the Mideast peace process.
“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. There is no middle ground between our allies and those who seek their destruction,” said the Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, as he went before cameras about 25 blocks from the United Nations, where the Palestinian Authority this week will seek formal recognition of statehood by the United Nations General Assembly.
After meeting with a leading Israeli politician as well as some Jewish American leaders, Perry said that “America should not be ambivalent between the terrorist tactics of Hamas and the security tactics of the legitimate and free state of Israel. By proposing ‘indirect talks’ through the U.S. rather than between Palestinian leaders and Israel, this administration encouraged the Palestinians to shun direct talks.”
The front-runner in the battle for the GOP presidential nomination charged that it was “wrong for this administration to suggest the 1967 borders should be the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. When you consider this suggestion was made on the eve of the Israeli prime minister’s visit, we see in this American administration a willingness to isolate a close ally and to do so in a manner that is insulting and naïve.”
Perry did affirm, however, his commitment to a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians but noted that any agreement would have Jerusalem whole and under complete Israeli control. He also said that he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Perry’s visit to New York came as the president spends three days at the United Nations, meeting with world leaders. Obama is expected to meet later this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men have had some very public disagreements this year over how to move forward on the Middle East peace policy.
The U.S. vows to veto Palestinian statehood in the Security Council, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working with other diplomats to avoid a divisive showdown on the controversial issue. And the Obama administration points out that Israel’s security is a top concern for the White House.
“The United States is un-alterably, is absolutely committed to the security of Israel,” National Security Advisor Tom Donilon told CNN.
Standing behind Perry at his news conference was the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Likud member Danny Danon, who has been extremely critical of the Obama administration’s policy towards Israel.
Also standing directly behind Perry was Rep. Dan Turner of New York’s ninth congressional district. Turner, a Republican, scored an upset victory last Tuesday in a special congressional election to capture the seat, which was long held by Democrats. Obama’s policy towards Israel was a major issue in the special election, in a district that has a heavy Jewish electorate.
Perry isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate to criticize Obama over Israel.
“What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster. It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position. That policy must stop now,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in an email release Tuesday morning. “In his speech to the U.N. this week, President Obama must unequivocally reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel and its continued existence as a Jewish state.”
And in an interview Monday on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Rep. Michele Bachmann told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “I don’t believe Israel should have to give away any more of its land. The president hasn’t done Israel any favors.”
Primary campaign politics is a factor in this fight. Social conservative and evangelical voters are strong supporters of Israel, and they also will be very influential in choosing the next Republican presidential nominee, especially in such states as Iowa, which votes first in the caucus and primary calendar, and South Carolina, which holds the first southern contest in the road to the White House.
But general election politics is also at play. According to CNN exit polls, then Sen. Obama won nearly 80 percent of Jewish vote in the 2008 presidential election. While they only made up two percent of the voting electorate three years ago, they may be a factor in next year’s general election. In potential close calls in some battleground states, such as Florida, where there is a large Jewish population, they could be the difference in determining who wins the electoral vote rich state.
According to a Gallup poll released Friday, the president’s approval rating among Jewish American voters now stands at 54 percent, down from earlier this year, but still above his approval rating among all Americans.