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Mitt Romney accuses Obama of throwing Israel "under the bus"

Mitt Romney. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Mitt Romney on Thursday accused President Obama of having "thrown Israel under the bus" during a major foreign policy speech on the Middle East. 

In his remarks, Mr. Obama called for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and argued that Israel's 1967 borders should roughly guide the formation of a Palestinian state, though some land could be swapped. He also said that, following an agreement, Israel should begin to phase out the presence of its forces from the West Bank.

Romney, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said Obama had breached a "first principal of American foreign policy" by suggesting the shift.

"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," Romney said. "He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends."

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is headed to Washington on Friday for a meeting with Mr. Obama, also rejected the president's position, saying in a statement following Mr. Obama's speech that a return to his country's 1967 borders would spell disaster for the Jewish state. (Netanyahu will also speak at a conference for the pro-Israel lobbyist group AIPAC while he is in Washington, and Mr. Obama plans to speak to the group Sunday. AIPAC declined to comment for this story.)

Netanyahu said via Facebook on Thursday that he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004" - including "Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines."

While the 1967 borders have been a frequent point of discussion in previous peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, some say Mr. Obama's comments reflect the strongest endorsement of those borders by a U.S. president.

"This is the first clear statement by an American president that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed territorial swaps," former Rep. Robert Wexler, of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told Politico.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said Mr. Obama's call for renewed peace talks reflected the administration's "confused and dangerous foreign policy."

"Today, President Obama renewed the backing of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and called for a Palestinian state, again," Santorum said in a statement Thursday afternoon, "This, at a time when the Palestinian Authority and Hamas just forged a new alliance. The current Administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies."

And Tim Pawlenty, another GOP presidential candidate, called the proposal to return to 1967 lines a "mistaken and very dangerous demand." 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, meanwhile, argued that Mr. Obama's plan "undermines our special relationship with Israel and weakens our ally's ability to defend itself."

"The President's habit of drawing a moral equivalence between the actions of the Palestinians and the Israelis while assessing blame for the conflict is, in and of itself, harmful to the prospect for peace," he said in a statement on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Jewish donors have warned the president's re-election campaign that he is at risk of losing their support as a result of what is being read as an overly tough stance on Israel.

"One top Democratic fund-raiser, Miami developer Michael Adler, said he urged Obama campaign manager Jim Messina to be 'extremely proactive' in countering the perception in the Jewish community that Mr. Obama is too critical of Israel," writes the WSJ's Laura Meckler.

A number of Jewish groups have responded positively to Mr. Obama's remarks - particularly in light of his comments calling for a non-militarized Palestinian state and denouncing Palestinian efforts "to delegitimize Israel."

"We support the President's vision of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement with strong security provisions for Israel, and a non-militarized Palestinian state," said the Anti-Defamation League's Robert Sugarman and Abraham Foxman. "We appreciate his direct rejection of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and his understanding that the Hamas-Fatah agreement poses major problems for Israel."

David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish committee, also praised the call for revived negotiations.

"President Obama has sternly warned the Palestinians, and the international community, to stop this senseless drive to try to achieve a state without any negotiated agreement with Israel," he said on Thursday. "The parameters of a two-state solution are just as clear today as they were when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from the peace talks last September...The Palestinians must return now to close the deal."

J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization, added that it "wholeheartedly endorses" the president's proposal.

"[Mr. Obama] is correct in saying that Israel will only find security through granting the Palestinian people their freedom, and the Palestinian people will only achieve freedom if Israel finds security," said J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami in a Thursday statement.

And Noah Pollak, the executive director for the Emergency Committee for Israel, said via Twitter that Mr. Obama's remarks should come as no shock to Netanyahu.

"I don't think there's anything in this speech that Netanyahu will find surprising or even disagreeable," he Tweeted.

"If someone had said to me yesterday, 'you'll be defending Obama on Israel tomorrow' I would have laughed," Pollak added.

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