The Republican candidates have competed to portray themselves as the top fan of Israel.
During the GOP debate in Miami, Sen. Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump for his stance on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
"On Israel, Donald has said he wants to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians," said Cruz. "As president, I will not be neutral."
Trump defended his record on Israel, arguing that there is "nobody on this stage that is more pro-Israel than I am."
Cruz has a point: Trump did say he wanted to be "neutral" in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. However, that doesn’t capture the full spirit of Trump’s comments about Israel.
Trump the negotiator
Cruz was using an attack line we’ve seen before in an ad by Conservative Solutions PAC, which supports Sen. Marco Rubio for president.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked Trump whether Israelis or Palestinians were at fault for a lack of an agreement. So far, efforts have failed to work out a lasting comprehensive agreement on issues such as security, land claims, whether Israel can build settlements and recognizing each other’s right to exist.
Trump refused to pick a side, saying that would hurt his ability to serve as a negotiator.
"Let me be sort of a neutral guy .... I don't want to say whose fault is it," Trump said. "I don't think it helps."
Trump made similar comments a couple of weeks later at a February debate in Houston. He said that when negotiating a deal, it wouldn’t help to pick a good guy and a bad guy:
"It doesn't help if I start saying, 'I am very pro-Israel, very pro, more than anybody on this stage,' " Trump said, adding that he can’t negotiate as well if he takes sides. "With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel."
During the debate at the University of Miami, Trump reeled off his pro-Israel credentials, including that he was a grand marshal for the Israeli Day Parade in New York. He stood by his words about his goal to remain neutral as a negotiation strategy.
Trump said although he is "pro-Israel", in order to negotiate a peace settlement, "I would like to at least have the other side think I am at least somewhat neutral to them."
Trump’s previous comments about Israel
In December, Trump suggested to the Associated Press that to negotiate a deal, the big lift may have to come from Israel.
"A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal, whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things," Trump said. "They may not be, and I understand that, and I'm okay with that. But then you're just not going to have a deal."
Trump evaded specific questions about whether Palestinian demands are legitimate but said that Israeli housing projects were a "huge sticking point" in talks.
The same week, Trump praised Israel by saying it had already "given a lot" in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition.
But he said if elected, as a deal maker he wouldn’t want to give away his position ahead of time.
"I’d rather save it for that moment when you walk into the room," he said.
Trump also told the coalition that he endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013.
"I am a big fan of Israel," Trump said in the video endorsement. "And frankly a strong prime minister is a strong Israel."
During the 2016 campaign, Trump had planned on meeting with Netanyahu in Israel but canceled after Netanyahu faced backlash after Trump’s comments about Muslims.
When asked at the Republican Jewish Coalition if he had relationships with any Arab leaders, Trump said, "I haven’t been working too much with the Arab leaders."
Spokespersons for Trump did not respond on debate night.
Cruz said Trump "has said he wants to be neutral on Israel and the Palestinians"
Trump did make that statement during an MSNBC town hall in February. He has repeatedly said that in order to be an effective negotiator he believes he must approach the two sides with neutrality.
But Cruz is omitting Trump’s comments and actions that have shown support for Israel, including that he endorsed Netanyahu.
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