Sarah Palin urges Israel settlement expansion, attacks Barack Obama

Sarah Palin calls for an expansion of Israel settlements – challenging 40 years of US policy – in an interview with Barbara Walters. Palin also criticizes Barack Obama for urging an Israeli halt.

Steve Fenn/ABC/Reuters
Barbara Walters (right) poses with Sarah Palin during an interview for ABC News in New York, November 13.

Former Vice Presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been something of a news generating machine of late, thanks to the publicity tour for her recently released memoir, "Going Rogue."

Whether a minor public spat with Levi Johnston (father of her grandson), her appearance with daytime talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, describing Katie Couric's interview style as "badgering," or describing Newsweek's photo choice for a recent cover on her as "sexist," she's been able to cause gallons of ink to be spilled over almost all of her comings and goings (this news organizations is a guilty as anyone).

But while most of her comments and coverage have been about personalities, or campaign styles, or whether she was comfortable with her $150,000 wardrobe during the presidential campaign, she is also beginning to provide glimpses into her policy beliefs, as supporters continue to urge her to run for the Republican nomination and challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.

Her latest bombshell: to effectively call for an end to 40 years of official government policy on Israel in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. In teasers the network is releasing before the interview airs tonight, ABC quotes Gov. Palin as saying Obama is wrong to oppose settlement expansion, an ongoing issue that is dimming the chances for progress on peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

"I disagree with the Obama administration on that," Palin said. "I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."

While her assertion that more and more Jews will be "flocking" to Israel soon is dubious (the immigration of US Jews to Israel hit an 18-year low in 2007 while the Palestinian population in the area is growing at faster rate than the Jewish one), her wholehearted support for settlement expansion on land Israel seized in 1967 is an outlier. The West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered to be illegally occupied by the UN and most world governments . Direct support for settlements would be a stunning departure for the US.

The administrations of Presidents Nixon, Johnson, Ford, Carter, and Clinton all considered the annexation of land seized in 1967 illegal. President Ronald Reagan took a position that some might be legal, but opposed their expansion. Prior to becoming president, as the US ambassador to the UN, George H.W. Bush called the settlements illegal. His son, President George W. Bush, thought natural growth for existing settlements was fine, but was opposed to new ones.

Her comments are drawing criticism from editorial writers and Israeli peace groups. "It turns out that we've got it all wrong in the Middle East,'' writes Dallas Morning News editorial writer Tod Robberson. "Despite the fact that every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has recognized the damage done by Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank, Sarah Palin says the solution is simply to butt out.... Stay tuned for her solution to global warming: Burn more coal."

American-Israeli peace activist Noam Shelef, writing at the website of Americans for Peace Now, writes: "Those of us who care about Israel and peace cannot afford to simply dismiss Palin's comments. Palin's statements are likely to become the new conservative line of attack against President Obama's efforts to bring peace to Israel. Gov. Palin may not be aware of it, but every American president in the past 40 years -- Republican and Democrat alike -- has opposed West Bank settlements. They have done so because settlement expansion is bad for American national security interests and because they have cared about Israel's well-being."

Writing on Foreign Policy magazine's blog Blake Hounshell writes the "settlements are hugely problematic for peace" and that her position amounts to "supporting an Israeli policy that all serious people understand to be deeply corrosive to the prospects for peace and to Israel itself."

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street (a pro-Israel lobbying group in DC that favors a negotiated peace settlement), said in a press release that "Palin's pandering to her right-wing base comes at the expense of the security of the State of Israel, the lives of those actually living the conflict, and the fundamental American interest in achieving a two-state solution in the near term."

Gov. Palin has not said yet if she will challenge for the 2012 Republican nomination, and she has shown some recent flexibility on her views on American foreign policy, so there's no guarantee this will be her position if she decides to get back out on the campaign trail. But for the moment she's also urging Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan.

"We need essentially a surge strategy in Afghanistan, so that we can win in Afghanistan," Palin told Walters. "And that means more resources, more troops there. It frustrates me and frightens me and many Americans that President Obama is dithering around with the decision in Afghanistan."

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