Jon Huntsman laid out his foreign policy views on Monday, but, while showing a strong grasp of U.S.-Asia policy and calling for a scaling back of U.S. military deployments, his vision of the U.S. role in brokering an end to the Israeli-Palestinian bordered on incoherent.
Early in his remarks, Huntsman commented that “we saw the Palestinians make an end-run around the American led peace process because they lost confidence in it and in our ability to lead.” Indeed the Palestinian attempt to seek statehood through the U.N. was widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in both the U.S.’ led peace process and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sincerity as a negotiating partner.
But 25 minutes later, in a response to a question about Israeli settlement expansion, Huntsman offered a very different vision of the U.S. role in the region, saying:
I think we must recognize that in a region of change, now might not be the time for negotiations. We have to listen, I think, very carefully to what leadership in Israel has to say about the timing issue.
And, if now is not the time, I don’t think we can force the process, but what we can do during this time of uncertainty is to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and remind the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States. This we have not done in a very long time and, so long as there is not any blue sky between United States and Israel, it doesn’t matter what plays out in the region.
How, exactly, Huntsman envisions regaining Palestinian confidence while declaring that “now might not be the time for negotiations” is an important question and one with no obvious answer. Huntsman’s expertise, both professionally and as a diplomat, have focused on East Asia but his lack of urgency in resolving the Middle East conflict flies in the face of positions taken by senior military leadership and the State Department. While establishing credentials as a “pro-Israel” politician has become more important than ever, Huntsman’s deference to “what leadership in Israel has to say about the timing issue” could come at the expense of U.S. national security interests and further tarnish the respect for U.S. leadership which Huntsman aims to restore.