The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has made little progress on a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. John Kasich, the Republican presidential candidate, told Haaretz in an interview on Thursday that if he were to become president, he wouldn’t even bother trying until both sides invited the United States to participate.
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“I don’t think that’s our job,” Kasich, the governor of Ohio, said of the peace process. “[Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud] Abbas is 80 years old. [He is 81.] [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is trying to figure out what he wants to do in light of the constant violence. They have to figure out when the time is right. And then if the time is right and they ask us to be a mediator, we’re there. But I’m not going over there trying to pressure people to the table because it’ll fail.”
Kasich spoke to Haaretz following a televised Town Hall event at the historic Milleridge Cottage in Jericho, a small Long Island town an hour east of New York City.
In front of an audience of roughly 200 people – both skeptics and supporters – Kasich sparred with MSNBC host Chris Matthews on same-sex marriage, immigration and foreign policy, trying to convince New Yorkers ahead of their state’s primary on Tuesday that he was the party’s only rational candidate.
Aside from references to the Islamic State, Middle Eastern politics did not come up during the conversation, but Kasich confirmed his support for Israel to Haaretz, elaborating on points he made last month in a speech to AIPAC, including comments about supplying Israel with military equipment.
“I think they ought to have military superiority in every way,” Kasich said in Thursday’s interview. “Whatever they need. Aircraft. More opportunity to intercept, whatever it is.”
Kasich, who served on the House Armed Services committee during his 18 years in Congress, also allowed that the “U.S. could learn a lot” from Israel in terms of security, calling Israel’s intelligence community “second to none.” “They also know how to prevent as best as they can,” he said. “I mean, yes, we can learn a lot from them for sure.”
Kasich also reiterated his disdain for President Barack Obama’s controversial Iran Deal to curb that country’s nuclear development but dismissed the vows of his Republican opponents, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, to “tear it up on Day One.”
“I’m for suspending it now,” Kasich told Haaretz. “The reason is we don’t know what’s going to happen. Do we just want to do this alone or would we rather have a bunch of countries that would put sanctions on once they violate the deal? Or should we just do it alone and lose everybody? I think there’s more power in acting in a group than there is in us just acting individually and most of this is nothing more than just campaign rhetoric and pandering.”
Asked if he fundamentally supports a diplomatic effort to address Iran’s nuclear program, he replied sharply that a deal would not have happened under his watch. “I would never have done this because I don’t think there were any grounds on which to move forward.”
The 2016 presidential campaign has been marked by anti-Muslim rhetoric, driven by calls from Trump to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the United States and from Cruz to patrol Muslim neighborhoods. Kasich tacitly denounced that sentiment.
“I don’t think that rhetoric is helpful at all in terms of the security of our nation or even Israel,” he said.
Responding to fears of a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, Kasich said the key to addressing it is building stronger ties with European leaders who can stem the tide, citing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as an example of one who takes the threat seriously.
“Relationship with leaders is where you start saying to them, now, come on. We can’t tolerate this. This divides us We’re seeing a mass exodus of Jewish individuals from Europe, where they don’t feel safe.”
Kasich then made a connection to anti-Semitism on U.S. universities, adding, “Just like we can’t tolerate this on our own college campuses.”
Continuing in that vein, he said that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has a strong presence on U.S. college campuses, “has to stop.”
“That is nonsense, that is hate speech and it cannot be tolerated,” he said. “I’d call people out on it. I’d call the leaders of the universities out on it. It’s garbage.”
Kasich took second place in the New Hampshire primary and won the primary in his home state of Ohio. Beyond that, he has struggled to gain a foothold in the GOP campaign, even as fellow so-called “establishment” candidates have dropped out. Current polls show Kasich in a distant second place behind frontrunner Donald Trump going into the New York primary on April 19, but with a slight lead over Texas senator Ted Cruz.
Kasich first visited Israel in 1983 and said he’d been many times since. He called Jerusalem “the most amazing city I’ve ever been in” and said he would like to return again.
“I want to take my family there,” he said. “But I’m a little worried about taking them there now. Things are dangerous. You never know.