US President Donald Trump will face opposition if his peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes the evacuation of West Bank settlements, two visiting US Republican congressmen said on Wednesday.
Representatives Andy Barr (R-KY) and Andy Harris (R-MD) toured the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank on Tuesday and the Samaria region on Wednesday.
US Representatives Andy Harris (R-MD), Andy Barr (R-KY) and Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan.
They were quizzed about their attitudes toward the evacuation of settlements, should such a move be included in the peace plan that Trump is expected to roll out after Israel’s April 9 election.
“I would be against it,” Barr said of any possible settlement evacuation plan.
“Our job after witnessing what we have seen here today is to communicate to the administration that the best way forward for peace and prosperity for everyone, Jews and Arabs, is more industrial development here, where we can have integration and not segregation: That is the path to peace,” Barr said.
He added that “free enterprise, where everyone has the opportunity for upward mobility and prosperity – working together – is the best way forward for peace.”
Harris said, “I think the president has shown through his actions how good a friend he is of the Israeli people. I think that most of the Israeli people would find that is not a good idea, so I don’t think he is going to propose it.”
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan thanked the congressmen for their visit, explaining that it strengthened Israel.
He felt, he said, that they stood with Israel as it faced terrorist attacks and delegitimization campaigns, particularly from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Dagan’s spokeswoman Ester Allouch was also present.
In Gush Etzion, they visited the conservation park of Oz Vegaon and met with Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar of the Women in Green movement. The two women spoke with the congressmen about the importance of applying sovereignty to Judea and Samaria.
Barr assured them that, “we will share this [sovereignty] message with our colleagues in Congress and our constituents in the United States as we echo your sentiment that a strong Israel and Israeli sovereignty is an interest not just of the Jewish people but of the United States as well.”
Their visits were organized by the Yes to a Strong Israel Project headed by Ruthie Lieberman and Sarah Paley.
On Wednesday, the two representatives spoke to The Jerusalem Post via phone from Jerusalem, while on their way to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They had already met with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Harris, who serves on the House Committee on Appropriations, said he hoped that the trip would help him better understand the situation on the ground so that he can effectively allocate funds.
The committee makes “decisions about where our monies are best spent in promoting peace and also prosperity in the world and especially among our allies, and certainly Israel is among one of our greatest allies in the world,” Harris said.
He has been a vocal opponent of American foreign aid ending up in the hands of the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund, through which payments are made to terrorists and their families.
"It is completely unreasonable in the civilized world to pay for the results of terror," he stated. "I agree with the policy of withholding payments to entities that pay terrorists pensions and money to the families of terrorists," he said.
Harris explained, "both our countries share an interest in anti-terrorism. We know the threat of Iran is a major issue to both [us and] Israel."
"Many Americans and American elected officials come to visit Israel because America has a fairly large stake in Israel in terms of security, economy, and alliance," he added.
“The policy decisions we make have global implications and I think there's no better way to understand these implications and come to the best conclusion by seeing things first hand,” Harris said.
While in Samaria, the two representatives visited the Barkan Industrial Park, whose factories employ both Israelis and Palestinian.
"Some of the businesses there are very diverse in terms of their employees," Barr stated. "You have Arabs, Jews, Russians all working together. In some cases the managers and supervisors are Arabs and in other cases they are Jewish, but in virtually all cases you see peace, prosperity, cooperation, and a flourishing economy" he said.
Rather than seeing "settlers" and "Palestinians," Harris said, ”we just met people.”
He added, “I am a father of five and I know that what most people want for their families is peace and prosperity, and to help the economy of the country. It seems to be working on the ground here.”
Barr, who has met with PA officials in Ramallah on past visits added, "economic development and free enterprise under the laws of the State of Israel is the path to prosperity and peace for this region."
Remarking on his current visit he explained, "it's a long way from Kentucky but I've grown to love this place. As an American, what I've come to understand is that for the cause of freedom, combating antisemitism and also promoting western values and national security for the United States, it's critical to have a strong, free and secure State of Israel."
Barr, who visited Hebron several days before with the group, noted that there is a Hebron in Kentucky, as well as a Mount Tabor street in his hometown of Lexington. "There's a lot of Biblical names that have been adopted as cities and places in the United States which underscores the common bond that we have," he said.