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Rep. Cantor and 24 Fellow Republicans to Visit Israel, Palestinians

Friday, 31 Jul 2009 04:10 PM

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WASHINGTON -- One of President Barack Obama's top congressional critics said Friday he hoped to reassure staunch US ally Israel of unbending US support during a visit to the Middle East next week.

Representative Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in national US politics, said he worried Obama has pressured Israel too much and demanded too little from the Palestinians in return and not done enough to confront Iran.

"We are very concerned about the direction we see this administration heading in as far as the US-Israel relationship," Cantor, his party's number two leader in the House of Representatives, told AFP by telephone.

Cantor will lead a delegation of 25 Republican lawmakers to Israel and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' Ramallah headquarters for a week-long visit that opens Sunday.

"The purpose of the trip is to introduce to many members of Congress - 25 of us are going - to the challenges on the ground in the Middle East, especially those challenges faced by Israel," said the Virginia lawmaker.

The delegation is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel President Shimon Peres, and other senior Israeli officials, as well as top Palestinians in Ramallah.

House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is expected to follow Cantor later in the month-long congressional August recess with a delegation of about 35 Democrats.

Cantor said the Obama administration was wrong to demand Israel stop all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank including annexed east Jerusalem, which has drawn condemnation

"We are very concerned about the attention being given, and focus being placed, on settlements and settlement growth when the real threat is the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran, and the impending nuclearization of Iran," he said.

"We are also concerned about the emphasis on seeking concessions from Israel without a simultaneous effort to get concessions from the Palestinians," said Cantor.

Asked about his meetings with Palestinian officials, Cantor said: "We in the United States feel very strongly about doing all we can to help the lives of Palestinians as well as Israelis, help achieve security and peace for both, predicated on recognition by all of Israel's right to exist."

But he added that insistence that Israel return lands it has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day war and accept a "right of return" of Palestinians who fled their homes in what is now Israel "is just like saying you don't accept the historical right of Israel to exist."

And Cantor said he would push the Palestinians for "the continued rejection of terrorism, and of course the rejection of the demonization of Israel that continues."

On Iran, Cantor underlined that "many of us did not support the decision (by the Obama administration) to engage with the terrorist regime in Tehran."

"But now that that is policy we want to do all we can to apply pressure, through economic means, to send the message to Iran that there will be consequences" for not halting suspect nuclear work, he said.

Cantor and Hoyer's trips will reportedly be underwritten by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

© 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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