By Cory Bennett
Potential GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson said during his first visit to Israel that President Obama’s wavering support of the Jewish state is driving aggression in the region.
“I do not believe that Obama has been one to cultivate the relationship,” Carson told the Associated Press in an interview.
Carson, 63, is a retired neurosurgeon who has gained popularity among some conservative groups following his ardent critique of Obama’s health care law. Although little-known nationally, Carson has conceded he is “strongly considering” a presidential run.
A central tenet of that run would be strong support of Israel, he said.
“I would make it very clear that Israel and the United States have a long, cordial relationship, and I don’t think we should ever leave the Israelis in a position of wondering whether we support them,” Carson said.
The U.S. and Israel maintain a close partnership, but tensions have developed between the two countries over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians have claimed those territories as part of a future state.
By criticizing the settlements, Carson said, the U.S. is downplaying the real issue destabilizing the region — Palestinian aggression.
“Until such time as their neighbors are no longer desirous of their elimination,” he said, Israeli control of the West Bank “makes perfectly good sense.”
The sentiment dovetails with right-wing nationalists within Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I think he’s a great leader in a difficult time,” Carson said of Netanyahu.
According to reports, Obama and Netanyahu have little personal chemistry.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has frequently visited the region to facilitate a peace deal between Israel and Palestine.
But Carson seemed suspect that such peace is possible. Instead of Israel conceding land to the Palestinians, he suggested neighboring states like Egypt could offer territory for a future Palestine.
“That’s one possibility,” Carson said.
Private group “The Face of Israel” invited Carson to Israel. The group sponsors trips to Israel for “influential decision makers.”
During his visit, Carson has stopped at Israel’s northern border with Syria and southern border with Gaza.
“If [Israel’s] neighbors know that we’re backing them up, they’re not going to be anywhere near as aggressive,” Carson said.