President Barack Obama undermined the sensitive and delicate negotiations for Middle East peace with his outline for resumed talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the Republicans looking to unseat him charged Thursday.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Obama, whom he served as U.S. ambassador to China until last month, said the president undercut an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to build trust. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Obama "threw Israel under the bus" and handed the Palestinians a victory even before negotiations between the parties could resume. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said it "is a disaster waiting to happen." Former Sen. Rick Santorum called the president's approach "dangerous."
Foreign policy has hardly been the center of the debate among the still-forming GOP presidential field. Instead, the candidates and potential candidates have kept their focus — like the country's — on domestic issues that are weighing on voters and their pocketbooks. Obama's speech provided one of the first opportunities for Republicans to assert their foreign policy differences with Obama and his Democratic administration.
Obama endorsed Palestinians' demands for the borders of its future state based on 1967 borders — before the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. That was a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy.
"It is disrespectful of Israel for America to dictate negotiating terms to our ally," Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It is not appropriate for the president to dictate the terms."
Instead, the United States should work with Israel to push for peace without acceding to the Palestinians, he said.
Campaigning here in the state that hosts the first presidential nominating primary, Huntsman also said the United States should respect Israel and work to foster trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
"If we respect and recognize Israel as the ally that it is, we probably ought to listen to what they think is best," said Huntsman, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before surprising his party and serving Obama, a Democrat.
He acknowledged he didn't watch Obama's speech and was reacting to news coverage — or as he called it "the aftermath."
Obama urged Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation based on "permanent occupation." That follows what other Republicans have painted as hostility from this administration toward a stalwart ally in the Middle East.
"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," Santorum said in a statement.
Obama's speech at the State Department addressed the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Speaking to audiences abroad and at home, he sought to leave no doubt that the U.S. stands behind the protesters who have swelled from nation to nation across the Middle East and North Africa.
"We know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith," the president said.
But the remarks only muddied things, especially on the dicey issue of Jerusalem, Pawlenty said.
"The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided," he said. "At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it's never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem."