Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Monday that it is within Israel’s power to lessen Palestinian violence by gradually granting Palestinians more freedom.
The Republican presidential candidate said in a Monday appearance on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” that a trip to Israel in 2013 had convinced him that there is “no easy answer” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He said he does not believe a comprehensive agreement brokered by the United States -- a “grand sort of bargain” -- would bring a lasting end to the violence.
“But I do think that part of the answer is maybe incremental change,” Paul said. “And I think Israel holds a lot of the cards.”
“Now, I don't fault Israel at all for how they defend themselves, they have to do what they have to do,” Paul added.
But Paul suggested that if Israel allowed greater commerce in the West Bank and Gaza, it would lessen some of the violence.
“It's going to be incremental change, where maybe there's more trade, the West Bank’s allowed a little more autonomy with trade, maybe a little more control over the tariff fees that go in and out of the West Bank,” Paul said. “Little things like that -- maybe eventually allowing Gaza to have a port, maybe under the joint authority of Israel and others.”
“It's not like tomorrow someone's going to end the violence,” he went on. “But I think incremental improvement and the well-being of all those who live in the confines over there is going to be part of the answer.”
Jake Tapper asked Paul whether he thought Palestinian incitement or frustration over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is driving Palestinian acts of violence.
“I don't think there is an easy answer,” Paul said. “And it's hard for me to actually know the truth of everything. We can see on the news and there's probably both sides to things, but I think it's not my role or the role if I were president or as a U.S. senator to say to Israel or to say to those who live in the West Bank that I know what's best for them and I'm going to tell you how to behave.”
“Ultimately peace has to come from those who live there,” Paul concluded. “I think we can encourage both sides to talk, but I don't think we can ultimately -- it's always been said America is going to be part of ... getting the peace plan. Really, ultimately it is going to be those who live there who have to come together for peace.”
Paul’s remarks are perhaps the most even-handed ones a presidential candidate has made to date about the recent uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence.Most other candidates have highlighted their support for Israel without any similar acknowledgment of Palestinian grievances.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton vehemently condemned the attacks against Israeli civilians on Monday.
“Men and women living in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere cannot carry groceries or travel to prayer without looking over their shoulder,” Clinton said in a statement quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It is wrong, and it must stop. There’s no place for violence — only dialogue can produce a lasting peace.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a Republican presidential contender, expressed solidarity with Israelis experiencing an “escalation of Palestinian terrorism” in an Oct. 8 statement read into the Congressional Record. He called on the United States to hold Palestinian leaders such as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas accountable for inciting the violence.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also said on Fox News on Monday that the U.S. should tell the Palestinian authority not to incite violence against Israelis.
"We should be very clear that there is no moral equivalence: That inciting terror inside of Israel is not the equivalency of what Israel does in self-defense," Bush said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) attacked Secretary of State John Kerry on Oct. 15 for suggesting that Palestinian frustration over Israeli settlements is partly to blame for the rise in Palestinian attacks.
"By lying about the true causes of the violence and falsely blaming the Israelis, Kerry brings dishonor on the United States," Rubio said. "By providing a Palestinian leadership with cover for its support for terrorism, he rewards incitement."
Paul’s somewhat nuanced position toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more moderate foreign policy stance overall, has elicited criticism from many Republican officials and donors. Paul’s support for abolishing aid to Israel, as part of his proposal to eliminate all foreign aid, has been particularly controversial.
Paul has the support of 2.6 percent of Republican primary voters, according to HuffPost Pollster’s polling average.
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