The right of return is apparently not as simple as sending your pizza back.
In his first major television interview as a Republican presidential candidate, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain stumbled badly on an issue near and dear to GOP hearts: the unconditional support for the state of Israel and its political leaders.
Cain, who has been suggested as a potential Tea Party spoiler in the nomination fight, stopped by Fox News Sunday to talk about his campaign on the morning after he launched it. He walked away bruised and requiring the requisite walkback statement from his staff that has been a hallmark of GOP campaign rollouts lately.
The trouble came when FNS host Chris Wallace turned to the subject of Israel. Cain offered a full-throated attack on President Obama’s Middle East policy speech, restating that Obama “threw Israel under the bus” and reaffirming his “Cain Doctrine” that “You mess with Israel, you are messing with the U.S.”
Cain said if he was president, he’d offer the Palestinian side “nothing” in peace process negotiations because “I’m not convinced that the Palestinians are really interested in peace.”
It was all pretty standard GOP boilerplate when it comes to the Israel-Palestine problem. Then came the moment ABC news called “a blunder,” Politico called a stumble and conservative radio host Tammy Bruce wrote showed Cain’s “clearly not knowing what Chris was talking about” and was another example of Cain’s “overall ignorance.”
“Where do you stand on the right of return?” Wallace asked. Cain gave a deer-in-the-headlights look and then offered up an answer that put him in direct opposition to Israeli political leadership for decades.
From the transcript:
CAIN: The right of return? The right of return?
WALLACE: The Palestinian right of return.
CAIN: That is something that should be negotiated. That is something that should be negotiated.
WALLACE: Do you think the Palestinian refugees, the people who were kicked out of the land in 1948, should be able or should have any right to return to Israeli land?
CAIN: Yes. But under — but not under Palestinian conditions. Yes. They should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make.
Watch (moment hits at about the 10 minute mark):
Late Sunday, Cain’s campaign put out this statement from the candidate, walking back his earlier comments:
All Israeli governments have rejected the “right” of large numbers of Arabs or Palestinians to return to what is now the state of Israel. Such an en masse return would unbalance Israel’s demographic makeup as the world’s sole Jewish state.
In this light, should the “right of return” “be negotiated,” as I said, “if that is a decision that Israel wants to make”? Certainly, and to reiterate, it’s Israel’s call. Israel has a long record of being more gracious to its enemies than its enemies are to it, and this would be yet another example of that. But is the “right of return” a moral imperative? Is it something Israel must grant? Is it something the United States ought to encourage?
The answer is no on every count.
Though he seems to be interested in discussing his expertise on the Israel-Palestine issue, Cain’s made no secret that foreign policy is not his strong suit. In a less widely-reported moment from the Wallace interview, Cain admitted he has no idea what to do about the war in Afghanistan — and he promised not to make a plan until he’s sworn in as President.
“I think it is disingenuous to tell the American people what I would do when I don’t have the intelligence information,” he said. “I don’t have all of the factors that are affecting this particular situation.”
“I owe the American people a responsible decision and a responsible plan,” he added. “And I don’t think any candidate can responsibly say what they would do if they are elected president.”