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Sarah Palin, in Jerusalem, affirms her support for Israel

Preparing for a possible Republican presidential bid, Sarah Palin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hints in remarks that Israelis are too deferential to their Arab neighbors.

March 21, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Laying a foundation for a prospective presidential bid, Sarah Palin wrapped up an abbreviated tour of India and Israel on Monday, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and declaring her fidelity to the Israeli people.

Earlier in her two-day sojourn to Israel, Palin toured the sacred Western Wall and its adjacent tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City, and appeared to contend that Israelis were too deferential to Arab concerns.

"Why are you apologizing all the time?" the former Alaska governor asked her guides at the wall, according to the Jerusalem Post, after being told that Jews were not allowed to pray openly on the Temple Mount and about the Arab riots that followed Netanyahu's opening of an exit from the tunnels in 1996.

Palin's drive-by trip to Asia and the Middle East were viewed as a means to bolster her foreign policy credentials at a time when the 2012 Republican landscape is beginning to take some shape. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced the formation of an exploratory committee Monday.

But Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, has insisted that her trip to Israel is private, and she has largely avoided the media and refrained from addressing the crisis in Libya or the unrest in the Middle East during her time in the country.

She, however, showed less restraint over the weekend while giving a speech in New Delhi.

While telling a friendly crowd at an international conference of an American tradition not to criticize its leaders' foreign policy while on "foreign soil," Palin went on to charge that President Obama had failed to act decisively with regard to Libya.

"Certainly there would have been more decisiveness, there would have been more commitment to making sure that those who are freedom fighters, who truly desire democracy and free and fair elections and respect for human rights and women's rights, that they know that America is on their side," Palin said in response to question, according to CNN. "So, yes, there would have been more decisiveness and less — though the word has been beaten to death — the word 'dithering'? I, heaven forbid you hear that again in national news over in the U.S. because it's used all the time. But less dithering, more decisiveness."

Palin demurred when asked about her presidential ambitions, but said she would continue to defend herself from critics, contrasting herself from fellow Republicans, who, she said, "kind of have the fighting instinct of sheep sometimes. They're just going to sit back and take it when somebody is saying something that's untrue."

She insisted that pushing back against her opponents doesn't mean "I play the victim card" — a criticism that some in the media have leveled at her.

"There's nothing wrong with calling out an opponent on their records and their associations," Palin said. "You can't rely solely on the media to do that."

Asked about the defeat of her presidential ticket in 2008, Palin said that Americans voted for Obama because he was an "agent of change." When asked why she wasn't a change agent, she responded, "I wasn't the top of the ticket, remember?"

After the crowd hooted, she quickly added, "That doesn't mean I should have been."

The trek to Israel has become a well-worn path for potential 2012 contenders in recent months. Palin followed Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour to the region. When Huckabee visited Israel in February he made a point of expressing his support for settlements in occupied territory, but Palin, despite her professed solidarity with the Jewish state, made no such pronouncements during the trip.

In a 2009 interview, however, Palin said she, too, favored an expansive approach to Israeli settlements.

The Guardian newspaper of Britain reported Monday that a car with Palin inside approached an Israeli checkpoint on the way to Bethlehem, which lies within Palestinian territory, but then turned around.

During her Sunday evening tour of the Western Wall, she told reporters, "I'm so thankful to be able to be here and I'm thankful to know the Israel-American connection will grow and strengthen as the peace negotiations continue."

Palin was escorted for her trip to the wall by Danny Danon, a conservative member of the Knesset.

"She really connected to the story of the Jewish nation," Danon told the Jerusalem Post. "She knows the material but there's nothing like standing in front of those big stones and hearing about the connection. I know that she loves Israel, and after a visit like this, she has a personal connection to the Western Wall."

Upon her return to the United States, Palin is scheduled speak as part of a lecture series in Naples, Fla., on Wednesday. The event will be closed to the national media, with only local reporters given access.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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