Iran is the problem, not Israeli settlements: US lawmaker
Thu Aug 6, 10:56 am ET
JERUSALEM, Aug 6, 2009 (AFP) – Senior US Republican Congressman Eric Cantor said on Thursday that the world should stop pressuring Israel over settlements and concentrate instead on the threat from a nuclear Iran.
Cantor, Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, said the main obstacle to Middle East peace is the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and not the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
"I don't quite know what is driving the focus on the issue of settlements," he told Israeli public radio.
"We believe the focus should be on the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran," said Cantor, who is leading a 25-strong delegation of Republican lawmakers on a weeklong visit.
Since hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won elections in February, Israel has come under increasing pressure from US President Barack Obama to freeze settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, considered illegal by the international community.
But Netanyahu has tried to shift world attention to Iran, which both Israel and the United States suspect of using a civilian nuclear programme to mask a drive for a bomb.
Cantor insisted Washington should push for tough sanctions on the "terrorist regime" in Iran.
"We share the view with Prime Minister Netanyahu that we do not want to see undue pressure placed on Israel."
Cantor, the Republican party's only Jewish representative in Congress, said it is up to the Palestinians to make the running in reviving stalled peace talks with Israel.
"If we are interested in a two-state solution we have to accept, and the Palestinians have to accept, that Israel is a Jewish state," he said.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has so far refused to recognise Israel as "the state of the Jewish people", which Netanyahu has said is a key condition for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
The visiting delegation is the largest group of Republicans to visit Israel.A similar delegation of 30 Congressmen from President Barack Obama's Democratic party is to travel to Israel next week.