While tonight’s Republican debate in Florida featured contentious exchanges over health care, immigration, Freddie Mac, and other topics, there was at least one subject that did not elicit barbs and harsh words—Israel. The question posed to the candidates was by a self-identified Republican Palestinian-American, and he asked: “How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people?”
Mitt Romney gave a strong answer by coming down hard on the Palestinian leadership that’s failed its people. “Well, the reason that there's not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is—in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it's in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state,” Romney responded.
“There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.”
Romney then turned his criticism toward President Obama and how he has treated Israel.
“This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements,” Romney said. “He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw – [APPLAUSE] I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the '67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I think [Obama] has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.”
The audience applauded.
Next up was the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (though first he had to answer moderator Wolf Blitzer specific follow-up on whether he believes the Palestinians are an invented people, as Gingrich has said before—he still believes what says).
“There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November,” Gingrich said, bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back home to Florida voters. “Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war?”
Gingrich, saying that “Romney is exactly right,” went on to assail the Palestinian leadership, particularly Hamas, saying they cannot be negotiated with.
Gingrich did reach out to the Palestinians, saying he had their best interest at heart. “My goal for the Palestinian people would be [for them] to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom,” he said. “And they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side, now let's work together to create mutual prosperity.”
Then the former speaker promised the moon: “On the first day that I'm president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we're with Israel.”
The audience again applauded.
Neither Rick Santorum nor Ron Paul was asked a question regarding Israel in tonight’s debate.