Was Reagan Too 'Anti-Israel' For Today's Republicans?

The Myth of Obama's Bias Toward Palestinians

By Mark Weber
October 5, 2011

Leading Republicans say that President Obama is not a real friend of Israel, and that his policies are harming the Jewish state. They criticize Obama for his view that Israel should halt Jewish settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory, and that the pre-1967 borders should be the basis of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Rick Perry, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for president in next year's election campaign, says Obama's view that the pre-1967 borders should be a starting point for negotiation is "insulting and naïve." The Texas Governor accuses the President of a "policy of appeasement" toward the Palestinians, and calls his Middle East policy "naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous."

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, another leading contender for the Republican party's presidential nomination, criticizes what he calls "President Obama's repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position."

President Obama's grandiose rhetoric raised hopes among millions around the world that his foreign policy would be markedly more just and even-handed than that of his predecessor. But those expectations have given way to disappointment. Obama's policies as president have proven to be every bit as pro-Israel as those of other American leaders.

Obama has pledged to veto any Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition as a member state, and his recent address to the UN General Assembly was so ardently supportive of Israeli interests and policies that it earned praise from hard-line Zionists. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu called Obama's speech a "a badge of honor."

The new US ambassador to Israel recently made clear that President Obama's Middle East policies are driven by concern for Israel's security and identity as a Jewish ethno-religious state. "The test of every policy the Administration develops in the Middle East," said ambassador Daniel Shapiro, "is whether it is consistent with the goal of ensuring Israel's future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state. That is a commitment that runs as a common thread through our entire government."

In key points, Obama's Middle East policy is similar to that of President Ronald Reagan, whom most Republicans regard as their party's greatest leader in living memory. Reagan's most detailed and carefully considered presentation of his views on the Israel-Palestine issue was given in a major presidential address of Sept. 1, 1982, which came to be known as "The Reagan Plan."

"The United States," he warned the Israelis, "will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks."

America's efforts for peace in the region, Reagan went on, must be based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 , which calls for the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied" in the June 1967 war, and which is explicit in "emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."

Reagan said: "... We base our approach squarely on the principle that the Arab-Israeli conflict should be resolved through the negotiations involving an exchange of territory for peace. This exchange is enshrined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which is, in turn, incorporated in all its parts in the Camp David agreements. U.N. Resolution 242 remains wholly valid as the foundation-stone of America's Middle East peace effort. It is the United States' position that -- in return for peace -- the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza."

Claims by Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and other Republicans that President Obama's policies are biased toward the Palestinians or are somehow hostile to Israel are so groundless that they can only be regarded as conscious falsehoods. If the Republican critics of Obama's Middle East policy are honest and consistent, they must reject President Reagan's policy as similarly dangerous, "naïve" and harmful to Israel.