Amanpour: Perry’s Fierce Defense of Israel Breaks New Ground

Gov. Rick Perry’s support for Israel’s right to build new settlements and a possible end of US aid to the Palestinian Authority not only break with the Obama administration’s policies, but goes even further than George W. Bush’s Middle East approach.

In a speech this morning in which he called the Obama administration’s Middle East policy “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” – Perry called for drastic measures if a UN vote to recognize Palestinian statehood goes through. He said in that case, he would urge the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in D.C., an end of US aid to the Palestinian Authority and a stop to US funding of the United Nations.

I caught up with Perry after the speech and asked him about the wisdom of cutting off the Palestinian Authority funding. Would it actually endanger Israel, as the money has helped both Israeli and Palestinian security forces  to work together and dramatically reduce violence over the past several years?

The governor told me his tough message is designed to prod both sides back to the bargaining table. He said that he believes there is no option other than direct negotiations between the two parties, Israel and the Palestinians.

Perry’s  remarks on the controversial Jewish settlements will surely spark some heat.  At this morning’s event just a few blocks from the United Nations, Perry first said the issue needs to be resolved by the parties themselves, but later in response to another question, he said:  ”Israel should be allowed to keep building (settlements).”

The official US position is just the opposite – calling on all sides to avoid unilateral actions that harm the peace process – including the construction of new settlements. That has been the position of every recent US president, including George W. Bush.

Former  President Clinton told me Sunday on This Week that he believes Congress would be unwise to cut the funding for Palestinian security.

The whole issue may be coming to a confrontation this week at the United Nations General Assembly meeting and a possible vote on recognizing Palestinian statehood. Former British prime minister and special envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, told me Sunday that frantic efforts are being made to avoid such a showdown and return instead to the negotiating table and diplomatic steps for a two-state solution.

Perry affirmed that he supports a “two-state solution” but only if it is directly negotiated by the two sides.

At the UN today I asked Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren about the diplomatic impasse. “It’s a roller coaster, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

At this morning’s event, Perry was asked whether his religious beliefs guide his support of Israel.

“As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel. But that’s easy for me. As an American and as a Christian I stand with Israel,” Perry said.

As many candidates do, Perry repeated that as president he would  insist on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during any two-state solution: “When I am president of the United States, if you want to work for the State Department, you’ll work in Jerusalem.”

Perry found support this morning from pro-Israel supporters who say they are frustrated with the Obama administration. New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, one of the organizers of this morning’s event, had a loud message for Obama: “We don’t like your policy on Israel.”

Hikind says he’s not a knee-jerk Democrat and warns Obama and all candidates: “We will not support you if you are wrong on Israel.”

While saying he was not making endorsements, he turned to Perry and said, “but I like this gentleman and his relationship with Israel.”