Visiting Republican congressmen "troubled" by Obama rhetoric, worry Iran threat being ignored.
By CARRIE SHEFFIELD
A delegation of US Republicans visiting Jerusalem said President Barack Obama's diplomatic approach to Israel was "troubling," focusing too much on Jewish settlements rather than the more pressing prospect of a nuclear Iran.
Some of the 25 politicians - many freshmen in the House of Representatives - led by Rep. Eric Cantor, spoke out against Obama during a press conference at the David Citadel Hotel.
"We are concerned about what the White House has been signaling of late in their desire to push through in terms of a Middle East peace plan," Cantor said. "That's very troubling."
Cantor said the Obama administration had incorrectly focused on the secondary issues of settlements, construction and natural growth, rather than the "existential threat that Iran poses, not only to this nation and State of Israel, but to the United States."
The House minority whip and the only nationally-elected Jewish Republican, Cantor swiped at the Obama administration for criticizing Israel's eviction of two Arab families from east Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood this week.
"I'm very troubled by that, because I don't think we in America would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws," Cantor said. "From what I can tell, it is an objection that has been lodged which is inconsistent with the legal system of a staunch democratic ally of the United States, which is Israel."
Cantor hinted that Republicans were hoping to use rising anti-Obama sentiment here to make electoral inroads with Jewish Americans, who traditionally favor Democrats by large margins. Nearly 80 percent of the American Jewish vote went to Obama, a Democrat.
"There is much discussion, I think, within the scene in American politics about the American Jewish vote, about potential gains for the Republican Party among many minorities, as well as the population as a whole," Cantor said. "Certainly I think many American Jews are very interested in the US-Israel relationship, as are we interested in that relationship, as it is critical in terms of the safety of our country."
The delegation is completing a packed schedule, including meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. The members have also been scheduled to meet with IDF officials in Tel Aviv and to travel north, near the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with the visiting Republicans, telling them that Israel would enter peace talks with Syria as long as both sides agreed that the Golan Heights would remain in Israeli hands.
On Tuesday the delegation met with President Shimon Peres, who discussed the prospect of a nuclear Iran and the urgent need for peace in a region riddled with conflict.
"What will happen if we do not attain peace? I'm afraid the Middle East will go nuclear, and nobody is interested in seeing the Middle East becoming nuclear," Peres said. "It would be a mistake that all of us would regret. We have to stop the Iranians, and we have to prevent others from going this way."
Peres defended Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, touting Israel's removal of 25 of 41 checkpoints. He said Palestinians were enjoying economic growth and greater freedoms.
The one-week tour was organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Next week, 31 House Democrats will make a similar trek, also sponsored by AIPAC.
"The nature of this type of trip is understanding the complexities of the situation," said David Kreizelman, a foreign policy associate in AIPAC's Jerusalem office.
The Republican AIPAC trip was not without its critics, who said the venture amounted to a propaganda tour. The Arab press lampooned the junket and criticized AIPAC's monetary influence in US elections. An article appearing in the Arab Monitor called the trip a "visit aimed at reassuring the Zionist regime in the Middle East of the United States' unbending support."
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