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GOP contenders: Obama has 'thrown Israel under the bus'

By Shannon Travis, CNN Political Producer
In President Obama's Mideast speech, he called on the Israelis and Palenstinians to agree to pre-1967 borders in negotiations.
In President Obama's Mideast speech, he called on the Israelis and Palenstinians to agree to pre-1967 borders in negotiations.
  • Republican contenders are critical of Obama's call to revert to pre-1967 borders
  • Several GOP'ers claim the president has "betrayed" and "disrespected" Israel
  • White House position on borders has been unofficial for years, but made official in speech

Washington (CNN) -- As President Obama's speech on the U.S. role in the Middle East is getting praise by some around the world, it is also receiving harsh criticism from political opponents at home.

One Republican presidential hopeful is accusing the president of having a dangerous foreign policy, while another claims Obama is making a "dangerous demand." Two others alternately claim the president has "betrayed" and "disrespected" Israel.

On Thursday, Obama delivered a multipronged Mideast message, declaring that the original borders between Israel and Palestine in 1967 serve as the starting point for current negotiations. He also made clear that the United States stands on the side of democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa, blasted the use of force against protestors and dismissed any notion that al Qaeda-style extremism appeals to younger Muslims.

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But what angered many Republicans and Israeli leaders was that border statement. Obama made official a long-held but rarely stated U.S. policy that a future Palestinian state should be based on borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

"The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine," Obama said in the concluding section of his 45-minute address.

Some GOP presidential contenders reacted strongly to that position.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who is exploring a presidential bid -- was especially blunt.

"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," he wrote in a statement. "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 your friends."

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Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is also exploring a White House bid, concurred.

"President Obama's insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand," he said. "The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided. 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."

Rep. Michele Bachmann took to Twitter with her frustration. "Obama's call for 1967 borders will cause chaos, division & more aggression in Middle East & put Israel at further risk," Bachmann wrote in one tweet. "Once again, President Obama has betrayed our friend and ally Israel," she said in another.

And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, also mulling a presidential bid, issued a statement which partly said the president's "incoherence and inconsistency in outlining America's Middle East policy has allowed dictators like Ahmadinejad and Gaddaffi to remain in power, while fostering overthrow of our allies in Egypt."

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At least one Republican issued mild praise for the president's address.

While Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement that the reference to Israel's 1967 borders "marks a step back in the peace process," Rubio also said: "I'm pleased the President used his unique platform to address America and the Middle East during this critical moment in history."

What is still unclear, however, is whether the rhetorical flame-throwing from the GOP presidential contenders will be widely received by many Americans, or whether it will only resonate with conservative opponents of the president's foreign policy agenda.

A round of recent polls show that a majority of Americans give the president high marks on his handling of foreign affairs. An NBC News poll from last week showed that 57% approved of the president's handling of foreign policy.

Meanwhile, one national security expert tells CNN that Republicans are slamming the president purely for political gain.

"This fits a trend among many Republicans to try and make Israel a partisan wedge issue," Brian Katulis, senior fellow for the Center for American Progress, told CNN. "And that's bad for Israel and that's bad for the United States."

The president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress is John Podesta, former chief of staff for President Clinton and an ally to the Obama White House.

"It's almost unprecedented to see such incendiary rhetoric that tries to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel and use it for electoral gain," Katulis said.

"It's a reflection that this is clearly a [Republican] party that, on security issues these days, lacks a lot of coherence. So they'll go to sort of ...the lowest political common denominator and haven't really thought through the possible strategic consequences of comments like that."