At a press conference with Jewish leaders and an Israeli official in New York this morning, Rick Perry staked out ground as one of the most hardline supporters of the Israeli right-wing in the GOP presidential field.
"It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel, and in the process establish a robust American position in the Middle East characterized by a new firmness and a new resolve," he said.
Appearing at the press conference at the W hotel off Union Square, Perry was joined by Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, a prominent supporter of the Jewish settler movement, and an avowed opponent of a two-state solution. Also in attendance was Bob Turner, the Republican who won Anthony Weiner's old seat in Congress a special election last week in which Israel was a major issue.
Perry, for his part, said he supports a two-state solution. But when it got into specific policy matters, he tacked to the right. In response to a question, he said he supports continued Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. That's a break from the longstanding policy of administrations of both parties. Perry also said his interpretation of Christianity requires him to support the state of Israel.
In his prepared remarks, he said the U.S. "will have to reconsider" aid to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank if it goes forward with a bid to seek recognition from the U.N. Some pro-Israel groups have been nervous about the prospect of cutting aid to the PA and especially its security forces, which are seen as helpful to Israel in the occupied West Bank.
Perry also called for the shutting down of the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington if the U.N. recognizes a state of Palestine.
He received enthusiastic praise from New York state assemblyman and hardline pro-Israel figure Dov Hikind, who said Perry's speech reminded him of himself.
"You can't be right on everything but wrong on Israel," Hikind said, summing up the mood in the room."We will not support you if you're wrong on Israel."
Here's the full exchange about settlements from the question-and-answer portion of the event.
Q: Can you explain what your policy in a Perry administration would be toward the settlements?
PERRY: From the standpoint of the settlements, those need to be negotiated directly with the state of Israel. If the United States needs to be sitting in and being part of that solution or in those negotiations, certainly we would lend the hand. But at the end of the day those are about the sovereign nation of Israel making the decisions about those lands.
Now the issue of how we have a state of the Palestinian people, that is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people, and it can't be accomplished in any way.
Q: Should the Israelis be allowed to continue building?
PERRY: I think so.
At that point Perry said something else but it was drowned out by loud applause from the crowd. He did not address the distinction between so called "natural growth" within existing settlement blocs versus building entirely new settlements (a point raised by Blake Hounshell).
I've asked his campaign for elaboration of his views, and I will update this post if I hear back.
Here's the exchange on Christianity and Israel:
QUESTION: To what extent do you view America protecting Israeli as a theological priority?
PERRY: Well obviously Israel is our oldest and most stable democratic ally in the region. That is what this is about. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel. As I said in my remarks, Israel is not a perfect country. But you will find me not only welcoming the prime minister of Israel -- whoever that individual may be -- in the appropriate manner to the White House. But I will be standing with Israel. And the people of Israel and the people of this world will never question where I stand.
Perry also promised that, if he is president, "If you want to work for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem." That's a reference to moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem. For years, presidential candidates have made -- and subsequently broken -- that very promise.