The remaining GOP presidential candidates clashed about their views on Israel during Thursday night’s debate in Houston, the contenders’ final debate before Super Tuesday’s primaries on March 1. Businessman Donald Trump was targeted heavily by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) over his stated view that he should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think [Obama] has treated Israel horribly…I have very close ties to Israel. I’ve received…many of the greatest awards given by Israel. As president, however, there’s nothing that I would rather do [than] bring peace to Israel and its neighbors. I may not be successful in doing it. It’s probably the toughest negotiation of anywhere in the world, of any kind, OK? But, it doesn’t help if I start saying I’m very pro-Israel, very pro-Israel, more than anybody on this stage. It doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors [of Israel],” Trump said during the debate.
Rubio criticized Trump for that argument, saying that he “cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith. The Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple efforts to make peace, very generous offers from the Israelis. Instead, here’s what the Palestinians do. They teach their 4-year-old children that killing Jews is a glorious thing. Here’s what Hamas does. They launch rockets and terrorist attacks again Israel on an ongoing basis. The bottom line is, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, given the current makeup of the Palestinians, is not possible.’’
The next U.S. president, Rubio said, ‘’needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I will be on a side. I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East.”
Cruz responded to Trump that “this is another area on which Donald agrees with Hillary Clinton. And on which I disagree with them both strongly. Both Donald and Hillary Clinton want to be ‘neutral,’ to use Donald’s word, between Israel and the Palestinians. Let me be clear, if I’m president, America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”
Separately, in an interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom published Friday, Trump responded to the critiques about his so-called “neutral” position on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. “My friendship with Israel is stronger than any other candidate’s,” he said.
“I want to make one thing clear: I want to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Trump. “It is what I aspire to do. Peace is possible, even if it is the most difficult agreement to achieve. As far as I understand, Israel is also interested in a peace deal…But in order for an agreement to happen, the Palestinians need to show interest. It’s a little difficult to reach an agreement when the other side doesn’t really want to talk to you. Don’t get confused there in Israel: I am currently your biggest friend. My daughter is married to a Jew who is an enthusiastic Israel supporter, and I have taken part in many Israel Day Parades. My friendship with Israel is very strong.”
Trump added in the interview that he likes the idea of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that the Iran nuclear deal was the “worst deal that Israel could have gotten.”