PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that Israel must “finish the problem” in its war against Hamas, his most definitive position on the conflict since the terror group killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7.

“You’ve got to finish the problem,” Trump said on Fox News on Tuesday when asked about the war. “You had a horrible invasion that took place that would have never happened if I was president.”

When asked on the program whether he supported a cease-fire in Gaza, Trump demurred, avoiding an explicit position on Israel’s military effort that has now also left more than 30,000 people dead in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The likely 2024 Republican nominee has not provided his own position on U.S. or Israel’s strategy throughout the five months of the war. 

Though a stalwart defender of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration during his presidency, Trump has also attempted to strike an anti-war posture on the campaign trail in the last year, attempting to contrast himself from President Joe Biden and his remaining Republican rival, Nikki Haley. 

“Frankly, they got soft,” Trump said on Tuesday about the Biden administration, claiming that the aggression by foreign adversaries would not have happened if he were still president.

“That should never have happened. Likewise, Russia would never have attacked Ukraine,” he said.

While Tuesday’s comments offered the strongest signal yet from Trump of what direction Israel should take, he has yet to offer specific thoughts or proposals on how much the U.S. should be involved financially, how hostage negotiations should be handled, the plight of Gaza’s civilian population or whether leaders should pursue a one- or two-state solution to the conflict.

Reached for comment by NBC News, the Trump campaign promoted the former president’s record on Israel and blamed Biden for the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.

“President Trump did more for Israel than any American President in history, and he took historic action in the Middle East that created unprecedented peace,” Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s national press secretary, said in a statement, adding, “When President Trump is back in the Oval Office, Israel will once again be protected, Iran will go back to being broke, terrorists will be hunted down, and the bloodshed will end.”

Just days after Hamas attacked Israel, Trump, in a video posted from his Mar-a-Lago estate here, declared: “I kept Israel safe. Nobody else will. Nobody else can. And I know all of the players — they can’t do it.”

Trump did lay out a few markers in the three weeks that followed the Hamas attack. He said on Oct. 11 that a future Trump administration would “fully support Israel defeating, dismantling, and permanently destroying the terrorist group Hamas,” while telling the Republican Jewish Coalition later that month that Hamas fighters “will burn forever in the eternal pit of hell.” That month, his campaign also said that, if elected again, he would bar Gaza residents from entering the U.S. as part of an expanded travel ban.

In the four-plus months since, however, the former president’s once-ardent public backing of Israel has gone mostly quiet.

That silence has run parallel to Biden increasingly coming under fire from left-wing and Muslim American voters for his support of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack. A coalition of voters is campaigning for Democratic primary voters to vote “uncommitted” or for similar ballot choices, as some backed in Michigan, where the “uncommitted” vote earned more than 13% in last week’s Democratic presidential primary there — a small uptick from the nearly 11% who voted “uncommitted” in the 2012 primary, when then-President Barack Obama ran unopposed.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has increased its criticism of Israel but has stopped short of cutting off military aid. Biden is currently pushing for a six-week cease-fire deal that includes the release of dozens of hostages still held by Hamas.

The Biden campaign declined a request for comment from NBC News.

In the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, Trump expressed his ire at Netanyahu, who congratulated Biden after his 2020 election win, saying the Israeli prime minister had “let us down” by allegedly backing out of what Trump said was supposed to be a joint U.S.-Israel operation to launch the airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020. Days later, Trump posted to his Truth Social platform that he stood with the Israeli premier after pushback from some GOP rivals. 

Robert Jeffress, an evangelical pastor of a Dallas megachurch and a close Trump ally who led the prayer during the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, told NBC News last month that he was not “concerned about his [Trump’s] position waning on” Israel.

The prominent pastor, who leads a congregation of more than 10,000 in Dallas, met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in February and discussed the support of evangelicals. 

“We would love to hear from President Trump what he’s been saying for the last nine years and that is his unconditional support for the right of Israel to exist,” he said.

Maureen Maldonado, an author and a Christian radio host, said she understood why Trump wasn’t as vocal on Israel as some supporters might expect.

“He’s a friend of Israel,” she said. “It’s all political, and he needs to get into office before anything. He’s got to play the game.” 

Vaughn Hillyard reported from Palm Beach, and Allan Smith from New York City.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *