House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) during a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday claimed that there will be no peace between the Israelis and Palestinians unless the Palestinians undergo a “cultural mind shift” and accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
When asked if he agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent comments that the U.S. views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “illegitimate,” (the majority of the international community views the settlements as “illegal“) Cantor — who is in Israel leading a group of Republican congressmen on a tour sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation — said that the “discussion of territory, lines, towns and settlements is predicated upon the Palestinians first agreeing” that Israel has the legitimate right to exist as a Jewish state.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu has elevated Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State to a central Israeli demand. But he has also insisted that such recognition is not a precondition for talks on other issues, as Cantor did. The U.S. House majority leader has thus staked out a more extreme position on peace talks than the Israeli Prime Minister.
“The Palestinians came to the table despite a staggering surge in settlement construction. Yet Cantor arrogantly proclaimed that peace would never come without a ‘cultural mind-shift’ among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world,” said pro-Israel group J Street in an email to supporters. “A mind-shift is surely needed, most of all by Eric Cantor and others who seem to be itching to sabotage the best opportunity we’ve had for years to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
This isn’t the first time Cantor has gone to Israel and undermined U.S. policy. Back in 2009, the Virginia Republican said on a similar delegation that he, according to the AP, “supported Israel’s handling of the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem, a move criticized by the European Union and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”
A year later, Cantor told Netanyahu in a private meeting that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on” the Obama administration. Reporter Ron Kampeas remarked: “I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.” While Cantor’s office took issue with that characterization at the time, his actions this week appear to support it.
Cantor isn’t the first Republican this week to undermine the peace talks. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Kerry for prioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying it “should not be our first priority at the moment while other regional crises threaten to increase the already high tensions and further destabilize a region already on edge.”
In a recent issue brief, CAP analyst Matt Duss outlined Secretary Kerry’s peace efforts, and explained why this is the right focus for the U.S. right now.