Republican presidential front-runner Rick Perry waded into a tense foreign policy dispute on Tuesday by criticizing the Palestinian Authority's effort to seek a formal recognition of statehood by the UN General Assembly and assailing the Obama administration's broader policies in the Middle East.
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In a speech in New York, Perry pledged strong support for Israel and criticized President Barack Obama for demanding concessions from the Jewish state the Texas governor says emboldened the Palestinians to appeal for UN recognition.
"We would not be here today at this very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn't naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said in a speech in New York. "The Obama policy of moral equivalency which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult."
In a statement before Perry spoke, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also waded into the tense foreign policy dispute over Mideast policy. He called the jockeying at the United Nations this week "an unmitigated disaster." He accused Obama's administration of "repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position."
Perry also criticized Obama's stated goal that any negotiations should be based on the borders Israel had before a 1967 war that expanded the Jewish state. While the 1967 borders have been the basis for diplomatic negotiations, they have never been embraced before by a U.S. president. Perry called that stance "insulting and naïve."
Perry's remarks came as the Obama administration has redoubled its efforts to block the Palestinian bid. 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.
Perry also expressed support for allowing Jewish settlements to be constructed on the West Bank, a practice Obama has asked the Israeli government to cease. And Perry said that the entire city of Jerusalem should be part of Israel, a move that would make key religious and historical sites part of the Jewish state.
Perry even suggested he would move American diplomatic personnel out of Tel Aviv and instead recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "As the president of the United States, if you want to work for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem," he said.
Romney said the policy of limiting Israel's negotiating flexibility "must stop now." He called on Obama to unequivocally reaffirm the U.S.¬ commitment to Israel's security and a promise to cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians if they succeed in getting U.N. recognition.
Both Perry and Romney said the U.S.¬ should reconsider funding for the UN itself if the global body votes to recognize the Palestinian Authority.
The Republican presidential hopefuls are intent on standing strongly behind Israel, an effort to appeal to Jewish voters and donors who play a pivotal role in presidential elections. It's also an effort to reach evangelical Christians, who play a key role in the Republican primary process and who support Israel for theological reasons.
Perry on Tuesday said that his own Christian faith is part of his support for Israel. "I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it's pretty easy," Perry said when a reporter asked if Perry's faith was driving his views. "Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel."
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. Turner appeared with Perry at the speech.
"It's vitally important for America to preserve alliances with leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region," Perry said. "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."
The National Jewish Democratic Council CEO, David A. Harris, said in a statement that "Rick Perry's comments today demonstrate that he clearly has little command of the U.S.-Israel relationship and even less interest in preserving the historic bipartisan support for Israel."
According to the statement, "it is long past time for Perry and other Republicans to heed the advice of those genuinely working towards bipartisan support for Israel, and to quit playing political games with support for Israel."
Obama is also in New York on Tuesday for meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly. He planned to meet later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.