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Position Paper on Israel

Commitment to State of Israel

I am firmly and strongly committed to Israel and would make it a priority, if elected to Congress, to further its security as a Jewish, democratic and pluralistic state, as well as its close relationship and strategic partnership with the United States.  The state of Israel has a profound role and responsibility in the world, both as a home for the Jewish people and as a critical anchor in the crossroads of the Middle East.   The United States must do all it can to assist its ally in this role.  There has not been a time in Israel’s 66-year history when this has not been true, but today  – as we watch a fragile and dangerous era in the Middle East continue to unfold – it is critical that we strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and keep Israel safe and secure.

Israeli security and recognition of Israeli sovereignty is the first and indispensable prerequisite of the two-state solution that I support.  This two-state solution must only be the result of bilateral negotiations, facilitated by the United States, between the Israelis and Palestinians.  I oppose any United Nations declaration of Palestinian statehood that is not part of a comprehensive U.S.-backed agreement, and support President Obama’s commitment to veto any such approach.

Personal Background

I had the great privilege and pleasure of visiting Israel in 1992 with a number of friends and acquaintances as a natural extension of my involvement with the Virginia-Israel Commission.

Our 11-day trip included visits to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and a kibbutz on the Lebanese border.  I remember vividly our conversations with Israeli tank commanders in the Golan Heights, discussions with Palestinian leaders and newspaper editors in the West Bank, and praying at the Western Wall.  We climbed Masada before dawn and watched the sunrise.  Later, when we were in Jerusalem, my wife Megan and I circumnavigated the city on the ramparts and Walls of Jerusalem.  We were struck throughout our journey by the sweep of history and by the passion and intelligence of the people we encountered.

My other personal experience that brought me into the greater world of Israel and Israeli policy was my role as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009-2013. Switzerland is the “Protecting Power” of the United States in Iran, meaning that it advocates on behalf of the U.S. government for the roughly 10,000 American citizens in Iran.  The Swiss embassy in Tehran has a close relationship with the U.S. embassy in Switzerland.

My ambassadorial term included the longstanding negotiations to free the American hikers held hostage in Iran.  I was also deeply involved with the case of Amir Hekmati, the young U.S. Marine who was arrested as he entered Iran, accused of being a CIA operative, and sentenced to death. The most significant role I played vis-à-vis Iran during my four years in Switzerland was to work successfully with Swiss government leaders and the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments to ensure that the Swiss closely observed U.N. sanctions and further respected the enhanced sanctions from the U.S. Congress and from the European Union.  I worked at great length with Swiss banks trying to ensure that they were not providing banking relationships with Iran.  I believe that by the time of my departure, no Swiss banks were doing business with Iranian companies, nor even with the Central Bank of Iran.

Iran

The biggest threat to Israeli security and one of the biggest international threats today is the potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  As President Obama and a broad range of national security voices in both parties have said, Iranian development of nuclear weapons is unacceptable.  Preventing this capability is a paramount and inflexible priority of U.S. national security policy.

I strongly support the President’s current course of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program under the P5 + 1 banner, as well as the continuation of sanctions and negotiations unless and until there is an agreement.  If I were a member of Congress, I would have signed the Hoyer-Cantor letter last month, demonstrating the bipartisan American commitment to strong support for Israel.  The scrutiny of Iran must continue to ensure total compliance.

Peace Process

In order for Israel to survive and thrive as the Jewish homeland, there must be a two-state solution with the Palestinians.  Brokering an agreement based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps is the only sure way to promote the peaceful , secure and internationally recognized existence of Israel.  Again, this agreement must be negotiated by the participants to the conflict.

The U.S. shares this longstanding goal.  Based on its friendship and strategic interests in a stable Israel, the United States has the unique ability to help negotiate the complex questions of borders, security forces, and equitable resettlement of refugees necessary for this peace.

Foreign Aid

U.S. foreign aid is an important way for our nation to further its goals of peace and security abroad.  Foreign aid is key to our closest allies, and especially critical to Israel, given its strategic role in a tumultuous Middle East.

This aid is essential to maintaining Israeli security and therefore is also essential to U.S. national security interests.  I fully support the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding that pledged $3 billion per year for 10 years to bolster the Israeli military while supporting many U.S. businesses.  I was heartened to hear that members of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently indicated that this aid was likely to continue at its current rate at the conclusion of the current MOU.

I also support US aid to the Palestinian Authority, aid that Israel’s security establishment has identified as critical for preventing terror.

The BDS Campaign

As Secretary of State John Kerry recently reiterated, the United States must continue to oppose boycotts of Israel.  The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is not a fair or effective way to move forward toward peace or a two-state solution.  BDS actually works against peace and the two-state solution by unfairly citing Israel as the obstacle to agreements.  I will stand strong against it as a member of Congress.