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The Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Issue Tracker

Updated: October 31, 2012

The cascade of civil upheaval that began in 2011 continues to alter the Arab world's political landscape and has added new layers of uncertainty to stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with Palestinians bidding for full membership at the United Nations in 2011. Additionally, the ongoing conflict in Syria and concerns about Iran's nuclear program have siphoned global and regional attention from efforts to restart peace talks.

Despite general Israeli and Palestinian public support for a two-state solution (ForeignPolicy), some analysts suggest a peace settlement may be more remote than at any point since the Oslo Accords established a new framework for negotiations in 1993. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Israel in July 2012 to underscore his vigorous backing of the country he sees as the United States' closest ally in the region, while chiding the Obama administration for what he sees as flagging support. Obama's relationship to Israel also garnered renewed attention during the Democratic National Convention in September after Democrats omitted and then restored language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their platform.

Obama often reiterates his firm commitment to Israel's security while supporting a two-state solution with borders based on 1967 lines. But his failure to visit Israel during his presidency and tensions with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel's continued settlement expansion and other issues have caused friction in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR Issue Trackers and other 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.

Barack Obama

Democratic Incumbent, Running Mate Joe Biden

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President Obama attempted to broker a new round of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in September 2010, but negotiations stalled (Reuters) when Israel declined to renew a moratorium on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In July 2012, ahead of a visit to Israel by opponent Mitt Romney, Obama signed a bill passed by Congress designed to increase security ties and reaffirmed his "unshakeable commitment" to Israel's security. He also announced a previously authorized $70 million in funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

While the president asserted his commitment to Israel's security in a May 2011 speech on the Middle East, he noted that the "status quo is unsustainable" with the Palestinians. He supports negotiations that will result in a two-state solution--a "viable" Palestine and a "secure" Israel--with borders based on 1967 lines and mutually agreed land swaps. Negotiations over territory and security, he says, should provide the basis from which to begin discussions over the future of Jerusalem and the potential return of Palestinian refugees. Obama has also demanded that Hamas accept Israel's right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to all existing agreements. In addition, the president has indicated that if he is reelected, he will visit Israel, and insisted that relations with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu (NYT) are "in good shape."

In 2011, the Obama administration objected to the Palestinians' statehood bid at the UN as premature and damaging to the negotiating process. In his address to the UN, the president said, "One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves."

For FY2011, the Obama administration requested $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (PDF) for Israel, the highest level since 2003. According to the State Department, the assistance is aimed at maintaining Israel's "qualitative military edge" and ensuring "the security it requires to make concessions necessary for comprehensive regional peace."

For the same period, the Obama administration requested $400 million in foreign aid for the Palestinians (PDF)--assistance intended to prevent terrorism against Israel, create stability in the West Bank, and meet humanitarian needs.

In his convention speech in September, Obama said, "Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace."

In an address to the UN General Assembly in September, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the peace process and a two-state solution. "The road is hard but the destination is clear – a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine," he said. "Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey."

During the presidential debate on foreign policy, held on October 22, Obama referred to Israel as "the greatest ally" of the United States and said that he will stand with Israel if it is attacked.

Mitt Romney

Republican Candidate, Running Mate Paul Ryan

In his white paper (PDF) titled "An American Century," which outlines his foreign policy strategy, Romney describes Israel as the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East, and said he will work to maintain Israel's "strategic military edge." As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Romney has criticized the Obama administration for distancing the United States from Israel, and said, "The key to negotiating a lasting peace is an Israel that knows it will be secure."

Romney said he will oppose "any measure," such as a moratorium on Jewish settlements, "that would frustrate direct negotiations" between the two parties. He also vowed to reduce financial assistance to the Palestinians if they continued to push statehood at the UN or formed a unity government that included Hamas.

In the November 22, 2011 foreign policy debate, Romney said, "My first foreign trip will be to Israel, to show the world we care about that country and that region." Romney chose to visit Israel as part of a three-country campaign trip in July 2012. During his trip, Romney said he considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel (WashPost) and vowed that his administration would move the U.S. embassy there, though other nations' embassies are in Tel Aviv. During a speech in Jerusalem on the same trip, Romney stressed that in the face of the growing nuclear threat from Iran, "In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."

Romney also underscores his commitment to pursuing solid relations with Israel's leaders, saying that as president, in implicit contrast to Obama, he would "forge a strong working relationship with the leadership in Israel" (Haaretz) and he would "not want to show a dime's worth of distance between ourselves and our allies like Israel."

In his convention speech in August, Romney reiterated criticism of Obama's relationship with Israel. In September, a leaked video of Romney at a campaign fundraiser (MotherJones) earlier in the year showed him discussing his views on the conflict. He said he thought that "Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," and called into question the viability of a two-state solution.

In a foreign policy speech in early October, Romney criticized the "strained" relationship with Israel, saying it has resulted in a "dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran."He also said he would "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."

During the presidential debate on foreign policy, held on October 22, Romney criticized Obama for not making more progress on peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, saying "they haven't had talks in two years. We have not seen the progress we need to have."

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