Senator Bob Corker returned on Monday from a weekend trip to Israel where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to discuss the resumption of Middle East peace negotiations and see firsthand the disputed settlements on the West Bank.
As a result of a meeting when Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the United States, and with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell expected to return to the region this month, Senator Corker wanted to focus on the issues central to reaching a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Senator Corker also made a brief trip into Gaza, and while there, saw the tunnels at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt where supplies and goods are being trafficked.
Senator Corker said, “In my meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I expressed my strong support for the long term relationship and many mutual interests shared between the United States and Israel and my hope that peace discussions between him, George Mitchell and Palestinian leaders are productive. We know that the issues are complex, particularly the domestic political currents Prime Minister Netanyahu must navigate in reaching a conclusion that Israelis and the international community can accept and simultaneously appropriately dealing with Israel’s security needs.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken often about the need for security and economic growth for the West Bank and Prime Minister Fayyad has demonstrated his commitment to enhancing security and shown an ability to create the conditions for economic growth. In addition, Mr. Fayyad has directly taken on Hamas through his crackdown in the city of Nablus and other areas in the West Bank.
“Based on the areas of commonality I found with these two leaders, I told Mr. Netanyahu that I found it hard to believe that they had never met or even talked on the phone. Prime Minister Fayyad appears not to be an ideologue and more pragmatic than previous Palestinian Leaders. During our meeting I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that when the time is right a meeting with he and Prime Minister Fayyad could be constructive.”
Since Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization, seized control from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza two years ago, Israel has limited cross border traffic into Gaza to humanitarian assistance and some other essential goods. Hamas has subsequently permitted the construction of hundreds of new smuggling tunnels for the trafficking of materials from Egypt into Gaza.
After being in Gaza on a visit coordinated by the United Nations, where several of the meetings focused on the smuggling activity, Senator Corker drove unannounced to the city of Rafah to see the tunnels firsthand.
“The unrestricted flow of goods across the Egyptian border, which common sense says must include weapons and other illicit activity, is stunning,” Senator Corker said. “One of the many problems this leads to is that Hamas takes a tariff from all the goods that are smuggled across the border through hundreds of these tunnels, which enriches this terrorist organization financially in the short term. There has to be a better way of managing the need for humanitarian assistance and, at the same time, assessing sanctions.”
Senator Corker meets with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem.