Less than a week after coming under criticism for saying that he would approach the conflict between Israel and Palestinians as a “neutral” party, Donald Trump appeared at the Evangelical Christian Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA and declared his “100 percent” support for Israel. And he said that his past tussles with New York City Zoning Board officials might help him strike a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Last week, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tried to get Trump to describe how he would approach the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians living in the fenced-off Gaza Strip and West Bank. As he often does when he doesn’t want to answer a question, Trump suggested that articulating a position now would undermine his efforts later. “I don't want to get into it for a different reason, Joe, because if I do win, there has to be a certain amount of surprise, unpredictability," he said. “Let me be sort of a neutral guy…I'm going to give it a shot. It would be so great.”
As Trump quickly learned, anything that smacks of less than complete support for Israel is a no-go zone for would-be GOP nominees, and at Regent University on Wednesday, he took full advantage of an opportunity to correct that impression.
After Trump fielded a leisurely round of questions from former televangelist and Regent Founder Pat Robertson, he took questions from the audience. One began, “Support of Israel is essential for continuing stability in the Middle East, obviously and for maintaining a firm stance against terrorism. Will you emphatically stand with Israel?”
“Yes,” Trump interrupted, eliciting applause and cheers from the crowd. “Very simple answer. Yes. They’ve been our most reliable ally, especially in the Middle East and you look at what’s happened with Israel. They were so against this horrible Iran deal. They were so against it. And I’ll tell you what; Obama is the worst thing that has ever happened to Israel.”
He went on to criticize the deal further, and concluded, “I’m with Israel 100 percent.”
A few moments later, in response to a different question, Trump said that his experience negotiating with zoning officials in New York might have prepared him to play a role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“I’m also very, very political. When you can get zoning on the West side of Manhattan to build almost 6,000 units of housing, and you have to go through New York City politics, believe me, you’re political. That’s as tough – I don’t say Israel-Palestine--but it’s about as tough a deal, it’s about as tough a deal. I view [Israel-Palestine] as the single toughest deal. We’re going to give it a shot.”
Trump appeared to be joking, but at this point, it’s not always easy to tell.