Former Secretary of State James Baker, a foreign policy adviser to potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and a long-time Bush family friend, is again criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Sunday he took aim at comments Netanyahu made right before his re-election last month regarding the creation of a two-state solution, which he later walked back.
“I think he’s been a strong Prime Minister for Israel, but I feel very strongly about this two state solution,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday adding “I was disappointed when he went out and said there will never be a two-state solution as long as I’m Prime Minister of Israel.”
Asked if he accepted Netanyahu’s reversal, “I accepted him at his word, but you have to ask yourself what are the chances now of a two state solution. They’re very bleak in my view,” Baker said.” “I think that is a tragedy for Israel.”
These comments were not as forceful as those in a controversial speech Baker made last month to J Street, a left-leaning Jewish American advocacy group, when he strongly criticized Netanyahu.
“Although Netanyahu and his right-and-center coalition may oppose a two state solution, a land-for-peace approach has long been supported by the a substantial portion of the Israeli body politic, every American administration since 1967 – Republican and Democrat alike – and a vast majority of the nations around the world.”
Some Bush supporters and other Jewish leaders are known to have raised concerns about Baker’s remarks to Bush’s circle, sources told CNN. Mega Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, whose major priority is the security of Israel, called former Ambassador Mel Sembler, a major financial backer of Bush’s, to complain about Baker, the New York Times reported.
Following that speech last month Bush tried to put some distance between himself and the former Secretary of State. Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told CNN Bush “has a great deal of respect” for Baker but disagreed with some of the policies supported by J Street and said “Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering.” She said Bush believes the U.S. and Israel should work “seamlessly to achieve peace.”
Baker, who served in various positions in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations and had disagreements with Netanyahu during that time, has been close to the Bush family for decades, especially with Jeb’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush.
“I’m going to be working hard for Jeb Bush because I think he’s clearly the cream of the crop of the Republicans who are going to run for the nomination,” he told Zakaria. “I’ve known him since he was a young man. I know what kind of President he would be. He would be an extraordinarily good President. He’s very knowledgeable. He’s very temperamental. He’s suited for the job.”
On a lighter note Zakaria asked Baker what did Barbara Bush mean, apparently referring to 2013 when she was asked on NBC’s “Today” whether she wanted her son Jeb to run for president. “I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes” adding though her son was the best qualified.
Once it became clear in the past few months Jeb was seriously considering running she said her earlier opinion was wrong. “You think I would answer a question about what did Barbara Bush mean? I spent years not answering questions like that,” Baker quipped.
CNN’s David Siegel contributed to this story.