Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio took aim Friday at rival Donald Trump’s stance on Israel, criticizing the front-runner’s insistence that he would seek to appear neutral in negotiations between the Jewish and the Palestinians.
The Florida senator accused Trump of essentially supporting an anti-Israel policy, as the Palestinians are not interested in reaching a peace agreement, he said.
“When I am president, we are going to take a side and we are going to be on Israel’s side,” Rubio told the audience during an event at Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA Today reported.
Rubio dismissed Trump’s plan as an imitation of policies espoused by President Barack Obama, and maintained — as he did during Thursday’s Republican debate at the University of Miami — that Israel should not be forced into negotiations on the grounds that conditions for peace “do not exist” at present, USA Today said.
“We all wish that there was an agreement that could be reached,” Rubio said during a subsequent press conference at Temple Bet El. “But right now the conditions do not exist, and forcing Israel to the negotiating table — as apparently Donald Trump intends to do — only further weakens Israel and only further emboldens their enemies.”
Rubio said the Palestinian Authority has no intention of striking any kind of deal with Israel and accused it of entering into a pact with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip and refuses to recognize Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority has never shown any willingness, in fact they have turned down some very generous offers in the past and flat out ignored … others, and I just don’t see right now the conditions for that, especially since they joined up with Hamas… an organization whose specific intent and purpose is the destruction of the Jewish state.
“The conditions just don’t exist, and forcing Israel to a negotiating table that ultimately will lead to nothing but legitimizing an organization like the Palestinian Authority, who celebrates as martyrs and heroes people who are killing innocent people, including this young American who died in an attack this week. I think it is actually counterproductive and undermines Israel’s security.”
Trump on Thursday night defended his approach to the conflict, stressing that he believes that appearing somewhat neutral with regard to the decades-long territorial and religious dispute would be the most viable approach in terms of potentially brokering a final peace deal between the two nations.
Speaking at the 12th Republican presidential debate, which took place ahead of next week’s primaries in Florida, Trump said that while “there’s nobody that’s more pro-Israel” than he is, in order to advance a peace plan in the Middle East, he would have to at least make Palestinians believe he was somewhat neutral.
Trump asserted that striking a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians would be “maybe the toughest negotiation of all time.”
Asserting his pro-Israel credentials, Trump recalled, “I was the grand marshall, not so long ago, of the Israeli Day Parade down 5th Avenue. I’ve made massive contributions to Israel… I have tremendous love for Israel. I happen to have a son-in-law and a daughter that are Jewish, OK? And two grandchildren that are Jewish.”
Rubio, who is trailing far behind Trump and current second-place holder Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, needs to win his home state’s primary on March 15 to stay a contender should the Republicans end up holding a brokered convention to decide the presidential nominee. New polls do show him catching up to the front-runner, although a gap still remains with just four days to go until the local party votes.
AFP and AP contributed to this report