Netanyahu, at variance with Republican platform, tells GOP senators he favors two states
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Netanyahu, at variance with Republican platform, tells GOP senators he favors two states

After visit to Israel, Sen. Steve Daines says PM is ‘cautiously optimistic’ agreement on defense deal will be reached next week

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a delegation of Republican senators last week that he still supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasizing his position three weeks after the GOP eschewed support for such an outcome in its platform.

During a meeting with six Republican members of Congress — they were visiting Israel on a fact-finding mission sponsored by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation — Netanyahu said he wanted to resume talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reach a comprehensive accord, Montana Sen. Steve Daines said.

“In virtually every meeting we had, including with the prime minister, there was always hope that the parties will return to negotiations,” Daines told The Times of Israel after returning from the trip. “But those need to be bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Obviously it’s been difficult with what’s happening in Gaza and discovering those tunnels built by Hamas,” he added. “But there is still, to the credit of the Israeli leadership, a desire and a hope that peace negotiations will begin again.”

Daines, who supports a two-state solution provided the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, said Netanyahu stood by his remarks in a seminal 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, in which he wished for “two peoples [to] live freely, side by side, in amity and mutual respect.”

In recent weeks, the Republican Party departed from the Israeli premier, however, pulling its public support for what has been a linchpin of US foreign policy for decades.

VP Joe Biden administers the Senate oath to Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., with wife Cindy Daines, during a swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in the Old Senate Chamber of Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
VP Joe Biden administers the Senate oath to Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., with wife Cindy Daines, during a swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in the Old Senate Chamber of Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

While GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail he would seek the elusive Israel-Palestinian peace deal, the platform avoided backing such a position, deviating from long-held orthodoxy among both parties in Washington.

Instead, the document implored the US to recognize Jerusalem as “the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state” and move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv “in fulfillment of US law.”

Such language departs from the party’s stance in 2012, when it abstained from discussing the ancient city and explicitly called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Daines is among the members of the Senate’s GOP caucus to diverge from the platform’s language. “Ultimately, I don’t want the US to meddle in the foreign affairs interests of Israel in terms of what they want to do with an agreement with the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “But from my personal perspective, I still would take the position that a two-state solution would be the better solution moving forward.”

During the meeting, Daines said that Netanyahu also indicated negotiations over a new memorandum of understanding agreement that would significantly bolster US aid to Israel should be concluded by next week.

“He did not go into a lot of detail on it, other than that things are moving forward, and that he is cautiously optimistic a lot of progress will be made on it this week here in Washington,” he said.

The other members of Congress on the trip and in the meeting included North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and North Carolina Rep. David Rouzer.

Seeing Israel

Other than meeting with the prime minister, Daines and the delegation visited the Knesset, took a tour of Hamas-dug tunnels along the Gaza border and an Iron Dome installation.

US Sen. Steve Daines stands with his son Michael in front of an Iron Dome missile defense battery just north of the Gaza Strip (Courtesy, Office of US Sen. Steve Daines)
US Sen. Steve Daines stands with his son Michael in front of an Iron Dome missile defense battery just north of the Gaza Strip (Courtesy, Office of US Sen. Steve Daines)

In touring the sophisticated cross-border tunnels, constructed by the Islamist terror group that rules the coastal Palestinian enclave, Daines, who was visiting Israel for the fourth time, said he was able “to see the challenges Israel faces up close.”

As someone who opposed the Iran nuclear deal — which the senator said would make available over $100 billion in sanctions relief to Iranian-sponsored terrorism in Israel’s backyard — Daines emphasized his commitment to “ensuring [Israel] has the resources to defend herself, because Israel is a true friend and ally of the United States.”

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