A delegation of conservative congressmen from the United States is on a solidarity visit to Israel. They are concerned about Washington's Middle East policies.
The delegation of 25 congressmen from the Republican Party blasted the Obama administration for pressuring Israel to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Eric Cantor, who is heading the delegation, says U.S. President Barack Obama's policies are misguided. He says the U.S. should be focusing on Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
"Any discussion of settlements, any discussion of the issues of living in East Jerusalem, should not take precedent over the primary focus of import which is the growing threat of a nuclear Iran," Cantor said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Israel believes Iran could have a nuclear bomb in a year. That is a cause of great concern here because Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map."
Israel has been agitated by President Obama's plan to open a dialogue with Iran, while pressing for a one year freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank. A report in Israel's Ha'aretz
newspaper says the Obama administration feels such a freeze might lead to Arab concessions in the Mideast peace process. But Congressman Cantor told Israel Radio that the U.S. should lay off.
"We do not want to see undue pressure placed on Israel. We believe very much in Israel's right to secure itself, to administer its laws," Cantor said. "There is no stronger democratic ally in this region than Israel and we're here to reconfirm and affirm that."
The congressmen also met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, to express support for the two-state solution.
The delegation's visit underscores the traditionally pro-Israel position of the U.S. Congress. Israel has often depended on congressional support when it has disagreements with the White House. Democrats in Congress are expected to travel to Israel next week.