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Just blocks from U.N., Rick Perry assails Obama on Mideast policy

September 20, 2011|By Tina Susman
(Louis Lanzano / AP )

Reporting from New York — Texas Gov. Rick Perry waded deeper into the Middle East fray Tuesday with a speech blasting the Obama administration's stance on Israel and essentially blaming it for the Palestinians' decision to push for statehood at the United Nations Security Council this week.

"Simply put, 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 naïve and arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said in a speech delivered at a Manhattan hotel, where he was flanked by Jewish leaders.  

In his comments, which come as Palestinian leaders prepare to push for the United Nations Security Council to recognize it as a state -- thereby leap-frogging over negotiations with Israel to achieve that status -- Perry said Obama's "appeasement toward the Palestinians" had put Israel in a position of weakness and had emboldened Palestinian leaders.

In particular, Perry -- to repeated applause from those surrounding him and from an audience heavy on local and international Jewish leaders -- criticized Obama for suggesting that the 1967 borders be the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; and for demanding a construction freeze on Israeli settlements.

The United States has said it will fight the Palestinians' effort at the United Nations, where world leaders are gathered this week for the annual General Assembly, but Perry said this wasn't good enough. "We wouldn't be here today" if the White House had not essentially opened the door to the Palestinian move, he said.

In a broad speech on Mideast policy earlier this year, and a subsequent speech to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Obama made clear that he's not talking about a return to the 1967 lines. He mentioned "mutually agreed land swaps" which would take into account the new realities on the ground.

Notable in Perry's comments was wording that showed him either better informed, or better prepared, than when he spoke to Time magazine earlier this month. In that interview, he appeared to be out of step with the details of the 1993 Oslo accords when he demanded that Palestinian leaders recognize Israel's right to exist, and renounce violence. They did that in the 1993 accords.

On Tuesday, Perry emphasized that the Palestinians must recognize Israel's right to exist, "and to exist as a Jewish state," an important addition lacking in his magazine comments.

He also called on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to persuade all factions, including Hamas, to renounce violence rather than simply repeating his magazine comments in which he demanded the Palestinians renounce violence – something they did in the Oslo accords.

Perry didn't limit his comments to Israel and the Palestinians. He went on to denounce the Obama administration's policies toward Iran and Egypt as well, saying it has been "slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt," and had left Israel vulnerable to challenges from across the region.

His comments come just a week after voters in New York's 9th Congressional District -- a heavily Democratic area encompassing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, with large Orthodox Jewish constituencies -- stunned Democrats by electing a Republican businessman, Bob Turner, to fill the seat vacated when Anthony Weiner resigned earlier this year in a "sexting" scandal.

The outcome was seen as largely a result of anger among normally reliable Democratic voters over Obama's Israeli stance – an issue that former New York mayor Ed Koch turned into the central campaign issue when he crossed party lines to back Turner.

Turner was among those invited to Tuesday's event, and he took the microphone briefly after Perry, accusing Obama's administration of vacillating and behaving "at times even hostile toward Israel."

"It is not accepted, and it is not acceptable," said Turner, the first Republican in about 90 years to hold the 9th District seat. "If it continues, there will be a very high political price to pay."

Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.

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