WASHINGTON — Top Republican contenders for the White House in 2012 accused President Barack Obama on Thursday of betraying staunch US ally Israel in his new long-shot push for Middle East peace.
"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," thundered former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, generally viewed as the frontrunner in the race for the party's presidential nomination.
"He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends," Romney said in a statement.
Obama declared earlier in a sweeping speech on the Middle East that that the borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state must be based on 1967 lines, igniting an immediate clash with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has vigorously opposed a formula that would see Israel withdraw to the geographical lines in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and immediately rejected Obama's formula.
The Israeli premier was to get a high-profile chance to offer his rebuttal when he addresses a rare joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday at Republican House Speaker John Boehner's invitation.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, another likely 2012 contender, said in a statement that Obama's proposal was "a mistaken and very dangerous demand."
At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it's never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem."
Pawlenty, like many other Republicans, fretted about a reconciliation agreement between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction and the Islamist movement Hamas, branded by Washington a terrorist group.
"To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority's agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen," said Pawlenty.
Some other potential candidates, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman -- fresh off two years serving as Obama's ambassador to China -- had no immediate reaction.
But Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, who is close to the archconservative "Tea Party" movement and has been mentioned as a possible 2012 candidate, charged that Obama "has betrayed our friend and ally Israel."
"President Obama: No friend of Israel and no friend of Middle East peace," she said on her Facebook page.
"I believe Obama's call for 1967 borders will cause chaos, division, and greater aggression in the Middle East and put Israel at further risk," she said.
Support for Israel runs strong in the US public, notably among Christian conservatives who tend to back Republicans but also among Jewish voters who tend to back Democrats.
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore