Republican presidential hopefuls touted their pro-Israel credentials Monday at the annual summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in Washington, DC.
With some 1.6 million members, Republican candidates are using the CUFI summit to highlight their positions on the Iran nuclear deal, a possible two-state solution and Israel’s right to self-defense and woo Christian Zionists as potential supporters.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called on US Secretary of State John Kerry to “get off his crutches” and leave Iran talks to “go to Jerusalem” and “hug Bibi,” resulting in loud applause.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC) laid out possible congressional action to counter the Iran deal. He argued that the agreement could only be blocked if Senate Democrats were willing to resist pressure from the Obama administration to accept the deal.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), in a pre-recorded interview, slammed the Obama administration and said that “negotiations have gone from bad to worse to catastrophic.” He labeled Iran’s nuclear program as “the single greatest security threat facing the US today.”
“This deal has become a research and development program for the Iranian nuclear program. Under the terms we know, the Obama administration has already given up the entire store, and they are pushing it as a partisan political issue,” he stated. “The president’s approach from day one on Iran is that he wants a political legacy and doesn’t particularly care about the terms of the deal.”
Focusing on US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions and those of Democratic candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Cruz added that “President Obama and John Kerry and Hillary Clinton are perfectly fine with Iran having a nuclear weapon.”
“They should really be conducting these negotiations in Munich and coming back with an announcement about peace within our time,” Cruz added, referencing talks between Germany and England in 1938 that led to the ultimate seizure of Europe by the Nazis.
Former New York governor George Pataki called possible Iranian sanctions relief “an incredibly stupid policy that I hope doesn’t come to pass.” He urged the US to “do everything we can to destabilize the Iranian administration.”
Speaking directly about Israel, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, one of the more centrist Republican candidates, told the audience in a pre-recorded interview that he does not give up hope on a two-state solution but does so cautiously.
Bush stated that it was “in the interest of the United States for a Palestinian state to come into existence,” adding that any agreement “has to be under the right conditions.”
The former governor agreed that Israel should be allowed to build in Judea and Samaria but only “in areas that are developed” and not in “green field” areas.
Both Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum renounced current US foreign policy of supporting a two-state solution as the means to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “I am not for a two-state solution,” Santorum told the crowd. “I don’t think it’s the role of the United States of America to be dictating solutions any more than if there is an internal territorial dispute in the United States.”
Pataki stated that he would “work with the Israeli government toward an intelligent approach toward Judea and Samaria.”
“I’m not going to demonize them when they believe it is in the national strategic interest to establish a community somewhere,” he said. The former New York governor said the US couldn’t “expect the Israelis to sit down with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and the PLO government when their strategic partner has been Hamas.”
When asked whether he supports a two-state solution, Cruz did not directly answer the question, saying that he doesn’t “think it is the role of the US or any other for nation to try to impose a specific solution on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“Israel is a sovereign nation,” Cruz added. “Whatever the ultimate solution that is arrived upon by those two parties — whether it is a two-state solution or a one-state solution is a decision for Israel to make.”
The Texas senator made clear that “Israel is not the obstacle to peace…sadly, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have trouble understanding the idea that the impediment to peace is not Israel, but the Palestinians who refuse to lay down their arms.”