Washington, DC – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has reiterated claims that the West Bank is not occupied, suggesting that Israel should be able to continue to build settlements on the Palestinian territory without interference from the United States.
Speaking to Christians United for Israel (CUFI) on Monday, DeSantis underscored his pro-Israel bona fides, including his efforts to crack down on companies that boycott the US ally.
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“Judea and Samaria are not occupied territory,” DeSantis said, referring to the West Bank by a Biblical name.
He added that, while the land is disputed, Israelis have “the strongest claim of right” to the West Bank. “They have every right to have very strong communities in those areas,” DeSantis said.
The Florida governor has expressed such sentiments before, even prior his entry into the US presidential race in May. In November, for example, he told the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference that the West Bank was “not occupied” but rather “disputed”.
“I don’t care what the State Department says,” he added.
But his comments on Monday signal that Republican presidential candidates will push forward with staunchly pro-Israel stances as they try to appeal to their right-wing base.
The West Bank is Palestinian territory. Israel captured the land in 1967, and it has been building settlements for its citizens in the area in violation of international law, while having de facto control over millions of Palestinians in the same territory.
Several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have concluded that Israel is imposing apartheid on Palestinians. United Nations experts have said that the settlements amount to war crimes.
CUFI is one of the largest Christian Zionist organisations, representing a significant conservative constituency of US evangelicals who back Israel for religious reasons.
Republican presidential hopefuls Nikki Haley and Mike Pence are also set to address the two-day conference, ending on Tuesday in Washington, DC.
In the run-up to the election, DeSantis has been struggling to chip away at former President Donald Trump’s massive lead amongst Republican primary voters, according to public opinion polls. The primaries are set to begin early next year.
Although current President Joe Biden has backed unconditional support for Israel, DeSantis hit out at the Democratic leader’s policies on Monday.
“We also have to reject the Biden administration’s attempt to force a ‘two-state solution’ with pre-1967 borders,” DeSantis said.
“First of all, those borders are indefensible. They want to carve up Jerusalem and all that, but here’s the thing, you can’t have peace with people that don’t believe you have a right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The Florida governor also slammed Biden for not inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House and for criticising the push to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. The plan, which would weaken judicial oversight of the government, has sparked ongoing protests in Israel.
“This judicial reform, Biden needs to butt out of that and let Israel govern itself. I can tell you this: As president, I will welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu to come visit the White House,” he said.
DeSantis’s comments come as Israeli President Isaac Herzog — who serves in a largely ceremonial role — is set to visit Washington, DC, on Tuesday, raising questions as to why Netanyahu was not invited.
Later on Monday, Netanyahu’s office said that Biden invited the Israeli prime minister for talks in the US during a phone call between the two leaders, without specifying a timeframe or where the meeting would take place.