VP candidates: Peace process is a priority

BY Ron Kampeas, JTA

In recent weeks, John McCain’s advisers have said that Israeli-Palestinian talks would not be a priority, but in Thursday’s Vice Presidential Debate Sarah Palin sounded a different note.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be a priority of a McCain administration, Sarah Palin said.

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“A two-state solution is the solution,” Alaska Gov. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said in Thursday night’s debate with the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). “And Secretary Rice, having recently met with leaders on one side or the other there also, still in these waning days of the Bush administration, trying to forge that peace. And that needs to be done, and that will be top-of-an-agenda item also under a McCain-Palin administration.”

Palin was referring to recent shuttle diplomacy by Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, aimed at securing an Israeli-Palestinian agreement before President Bush leaves office in January.

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published in May, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pledged to play a “hands-on” role in Israeli-Palestinian talks and said he would serve as “chief negotiator.” In recent weeks, however, some of his advisers have criticized the Bush Admin-istration’s current peace push and played down expectations of McCain’s involvement in forging a deal, saying there were several other more pressing foreign policy issues.

During the debate, Palin and Biden sparred at length over who would better protect Israel’s interests.

Palin targeted a commitment last year by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic presidential candidate, to meet with leaders of rogue states within his first year of office without preconditions.

“A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like ” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the Earth an ally like we have in Israel, should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first, ” Palin said.

Obama has since retreated somewhat from that position — originally stated in an answer to a debate question — saying he meant he would not rule out such a meeting and would prepare for it extensively. He and his surrogates also have suggested that in the case of Iran, such a meeting would involve the courty’s religious leadership rather than Ahmadinejad.

Palin also suggested she opposed Iran’s achieving nuclear energy capacity, not just nuclear weapons. That would be a shift from Bush administration policies, which have been to offer Iran nuclear energy independence as an incentive to ending its nuclear weapons program.

“A leader like Ahmadinejad, who is not sane or stable when he says things like that, is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, ” Palin said.

In the debate, Palin also repeated a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Obama’s campaign will not make such a pledge, hewing to policies embraced by presidents for decades that such a move would prejudice the outcome of final-status talks. As soon as he assumed office in 2001, Bush reversed his own campaign pledge to move the embassy.

Biden said Republican policies had endangered Israel, targeting Bush’s encouragement of elections in the region and the administration’s reluctance to engage with Iran until late in Bush’s term.

“Speaking of freedom being on the march, the only thing on the march is Iran, ” Biden said. “It’s closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas. We will change this policy with thoughtful, real, live diplomacy that understand that you must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has. “

Biden chided the Bush administration for discouraging Israel from engaging in peace talks and diplomacy with its adversaries.

“You must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has, ” he said.