Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a foreign policy adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening at the Washington gala dinner for J Street, a Soros-funded left-wing group that is devoted to disrupting the close U.S.-Israel alliance. Baker said that Netanyahu had been too forceful in his opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, and that he had shown insufficient commitment to peace with the Palestinians.
“If the only agreement is one under which Iran agrees to cease all enrichment, then there will likely be no agreement,” Baker said. Although UN Security Council resolutions ban any nuclear enrichment by Iran, Baker said Netanyahu’s position was too strict. On the Palestinian issue, Baker said: “In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory, the chance of a two-state solution appears even slimmer of course, given his reversal on the issue.” Palestinians have resisted peace talks for years, despite Netanyahu’s agreement to impose construction freezes in West Bank settlements.
Baker, who has been close to the Bush family for generations, is known for his past opposition to Israel and is viewed by many Jewish voters with suspicion. Nonetheless, Jeb Bush approached Baker recently to join his foreign policy team. The former Florida governor and purported Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination has not commented on Baker’s appearance at J Street, but did tweet on Friday that “Obama’s treatment of Israel…is misguided/disappointing.”
Baker drew loud applause from the J Street audience when he recalled how the first Bush administration opposed loan guarantees to Israel over the issue of settlements, and how Israelis elected a new, left-wing government in the aftermath. He touted “land-for-peace” as the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but did not mention the results of that policy in Gaza or in the terrorism of the second intifada, nor even the deep past sacrifices Israel had made for peace.
He did praise Israel for building “one of the most impressive states in the entire world,” with a strong democracy and a vibrant economy. He also predicted U.S. support for Israel “is not going to change” in the future–drawing fewer cheers. And Baker also supported the idea that any nuclear deal with Iran should be submitted to Congress for approval.
However, Baker said there was “little chance” that the U.S. would support a military strike on Iran, even if carried out by Israel alone.