2016 Hopeful Ben Carson Pledges Support for Israel

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

In his first visit to Israel, prospective Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he is in awe of the country, inspired by its ancient holy sites, impressed by the resilience of people living in a perpetual conflict zone — and deeply disappointed in President Barack Obama.

“I do not believe that Obama has been one to cultivate the relationship,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has emerged as a favorite of some conservatives in the early field of possible GOP candidates.

“I would make it very clear that Israel and the United States have a long, cordial relationship, and I don’t think we should ever leave the Israelis in a position of wondering whether we support them,” Carson said in an hourlong interview. “And that certainly is a question now.”

Carson, 63, perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in separating conjoined twins, is largely unknown to most Americans. But he’s earned hero status among conservative activists thanks to his outspoken criticism of Obama’s health-care law.

His rags-to-riches story — he had a hardscrabble childhood in inner-city Detroit — and his deep religiosity also appeal to potential voters. While Carson has said he is “strongly considering” a bid, supporters have already opened offices in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Speaking to the AP, Carson questioned the desire among Palestinians for peace. He even suggested that instead of Israel relinquishing captured land to make way for a Palestinian state, neighboring countries such as Egypt should provide the space for a future Palestine.

Carson is visiting Israel as a guest of “The Face of Israel,” a private group that sponsors trips for “influential decision makers” to promote a positive image of the country and counter “threats to Israel’s international legitimacy.” The trip has included visits to Israel’s northern front with Syria and the southern border with Gaza, and meetings with military officials and everyday people.

Carson said that Palestinian hostility toward Israel is what is preventing peace in the region. Of Netanyahu, Carson said, “I think he’s a great leader in a difficult time.”

Carson said he expects to make a decision on seeking the presidency by May.