GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he would be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if elected president — but in the past, he’s been quite vocal in his support for Israel.
Trump was asked about the conflict, and whose fault he thought it was, during an MSNBC town hall in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I don’t want to get into it for different reasons,” Trump told host Joe Scarborough, “because if I do win, there has to be a certain amount of surprise, unpredictability. Our country has no unpredictability. If I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying to you, and the other side now say ‘We don’t want Trump involved.’”
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Trump said. “I don’t want to say whose fault it is. I don’t think that helps.”
While on the surface, Trump’s neutrality is revolutionary, it’s actually quite insincere. Even while expressing a desire to remain neutral at the town hall, Trump still criticized Palestinians. “You have one side in particular growing up and learning that these are the worst people,” he said. “I was with a very prominent Israeli the other day, says it’s impossible, because the other side has been trained from the time they’re children, to hate Jewish people.”
Trump’s apparent desire to be neutral also comes as a huge surprise, given his past record of favoring Israel.
Trump has repeatedly criticized Obama for his policy towards Israel — both on and off the campaign — despite the Obama administration’s increasing support for Israel. In December 2015, he said Obama was the “worst thing that’s ever happened to Israel” during a meeting with members of the Republican Jewish Coalition. While Trump did receive criticism for engaging in Jewish stereotypes during the meeting, he also repeatedly expressed concern for Israel, saying that the Iran nuclear deal was the “a catastrophe for Israel” and that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton “doesn’t have the strength or the energy” to help Israel.
Perhaps the only time Trump has actually commended Obama was on his handling of the conflict between Israel and Gaza in 2012, which saw a disproportionate number of Palestinians killed. During that time, Obama emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself.
More recently, in the summer of 2015, Trump sent a gift — a book filled with photos of himself being honored at the Algemeiner Jewish 100 Gala dinner in February — to real estate developer Sheldon Adelson, who holds far-right views on Israel. On the book, Trump had written, according to people who saw the book and spoke with the New York Times, a note to Sheldon that “no one will be a bigger friend to Israel than me!” In December 2015, Trump met with Adelson in person to discuss U.S. support for Israel, and after the meeting he told Reuters that “Sheldon knows that nobody will be more loyal to Israel than Donald Trump.” Trump also spoke about his long friendship with Adelson and said he would love his support.
Trump has also used the illegal wall separating Israel and the West Bank, referred to as the “Apartheid Wall” or “Berlin Wall” by Palestinians, as inspiration for what the United States should do to keep undocumented immigrants out of the United States.
Hillary Clinton said that it is O.K. to ban Muslims from Israel by building a WALL, but not O.K. to do so in the U.S. We must be vigilant!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2016
Before the 2013 Israeli election, Trump also endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has since said that Israel will “forever live by the sword” and “control all of the territory for the foreseeable future.”
“Vote for Benjamin, terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel,” Trump says in the endorsement video.
Of course, Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate to have shown a preference towards Israel in the conflict. In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the conflict, as well as the Palestinians for turning down “every reasonable offer of peace.” He also said that the issue of settlements in the West Bank, which have been confirmed as illegal by the United Nations, is one for “Israel as a sovereign nation to decide.” Ben Carson has suggested that Palestine be “sort of [slipped] down into Egypt.” Sen. Marco Rubio (D-FL), who is backed by major Jewish donors, has also called for U.S. “unconditional support for Israel.” Jeb Bush has bragged about his brother’s policies toward Israel and said that he would not pressure Israel back into peace negotiations until Palestine fulfilled certain pre-conditions, including not “teaching their children to hate Israelis.”
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has also repeatedly emphasized her support for Israel as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In November 2015, she published a piece in the Forward, titled “How I Would Reaffirm Unbreakable Bond With Israel — and Benjamin Netanyahu,” where she expressed admiration for Israel’s “thriving democracy” and her love for Jersualem, half of which the United Nations considers occupied Palestinian land. In October 2015, students carrying a sign that read “Will Ya Feel The Bern For Palestine?” were asked to leave a Bernie Sanders event in Boston by Sanders’ campaign staff. A few months earlier, Sanders told audience members at a town hall in Cabot, Vermont to “shut up” after interruptions during his defense of U.S. support of Israel.
While Trump didn’t outright criticize Israel in his remarks on Wednesday, and despite Trump’s previous support for Israel, even claiming a neutral stance on the conflict may come back to bite him. In 2003, Democratic candidate Howard Dean was heavily criticized for saying he wouldn’t take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and later had to clarify that he would not end the United States’ “special relationship with Israel.”