The big news is that when the Republican debate last night in Houston at last turned to foreign policy after 90 minutes, the top subject was Israel and for five or ten minutes, Israel was the word you heard repeated again and again on the stage. The good part is that we are at last getting a debate about U.S. foreign policy with Israel at the top of the list. The unfortunate part was that the candidates were trying to out-Israel one another, in particular Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; and Donald Trump was forced to vow over and over again that he is “totally pro-Israel” and “Nobody on this stage has done more for Israel than I have.”
Nonetheless, Trump also repeated his shocking declaration that he has to be neutral about the conflict because he has the ambition of negotiating a peace deal and:
It serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy. Now, I may not be successful in doing it, it’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind. OK, but it doesn’t help if I start saying– I’m very pro-Israel. Very. More than anybody on the stage. But it doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors because I would love to do something with regard to negotiating peace peace, finally for Israel, and for their neighbors… As a negotiator, I cannot do that as well if I’m taking big, big sides. With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel.
The idea that Trump would refuse to demean the Palestinians upset Marco Rubio.
“The position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position.. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith.”
He went on to repeat his talking points. The Palestinians have turned down one great offer after another. Palestinians teach their children at four to hate Jews. And the U.S. has to stand unapologetically with the only free-enterprise democracy in the Middle East.
Music to neoconservative donors’ ears. Bill Kristol, powerbroker:
Trump has made this race about who’s the alpha dog. Tonight it should be Rubio.
And this promotion of regime change by Kristol:
Trump: pro-Saddam and pro-Qaddafi. #MakingAmericaSuckUpToDictatorsAgain
That because Trump said it had been a terrible mistake to invade Iraq. He struck an anti-war and anti-regime change position on stage, citing Iraq and Libya. If Hillary Clinton is preparing for Trump, he is also preparing for her.
Trump’s comments are startling some observers. Former mediator Aaron David Miller:
Trump alone among his rivals is actually rational on the Israeli-Palestinian issue
Miller was responding to Shadi Hamid of Brookings:
Rubio and Cruz are so extreme on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they made Trump look remarkably sensible.
And Michael Crowley at Politico observes today that Trump defies GOP litmus test on Israel.
Update. I forgot this part: Israel is like America’s child, Ben Carson said.
Ben Carson says Israel is America’s child. It’s true. Israel is largely the product of US-backed settler colonialism, racism and occupation.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) February 26, 2016
Thanks to James North.