2017 Tour Report

2017 USIEA CONGRESSIONAL TOUR REPORT

The 2017 USIEA Congressional Tour uniquely demonstrates the power of building strategic relationships and providing relevant perspective. In one short week, members met the right people and saw firsthand the important issues related to the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Congressional leaders with Heather Johnston on the Temple Mount.

View looking toward the Mount of Olives.

The Most Productive Tour Yet

This was the fourth USIEA Congressional Tour and by far the most productive. An Israeli host for the tour says, “This was my first time to be directly involved with the entire tour. I was extremely impressed with the content and execution in covering important issues, especially related to the burning issues in Judea and Samaria. Members heard from key people on both sides and left with data that both reinforced and challenged their existing beliefs.” Members received private briefings from a cross-section of Israeli political, diplomatic and military leaders.

Key meetings included Prime Minister Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and U.S. Ambassador David Freidman, along with a host of military, diplomatic and community leaders. Their first stop outside Jerusalem was Palmachim Airbase, where they were briefed on Israeli missile defense systems. They visited the Golan Heights and received security briefings about the ongoing Syrian Revolution and the Iranian land bridge.

They spent two full days in Judea and Samaria visiting Shiloh, Ariel and Hebron. They toured universities and businesses, and met with regional leaders. This is unique to USIEA tours, as congressional leaders are not allowed to visit Judea and Samaria on U.S. government-funded tours. The briefings covered a wide range of issues. Most speakers provided in-depth historical and cultural insights and USIEA Executive Director Heather Johnston provided the Biblical context and background that have shaped Israel’s heritage and are foundational to both Judaism and Christianity.

Visiting the Southern Steps at the base of the Temple Mount.

The Western Wall

What They Learned

Iran’s Regional Aspirations

Nearly every speaker warned of the threat Iran poses to the geopolitical landscape of today’s Middle East. While the U.S. has been focused on dealing with ISIS, Iran is using the current situation to leverage its regional aspirations. It is intent on creating a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean to provide a military and political corridor under Shiite Muslim control. If Iran gains nuclear status, it will be an even greater existential threat to Israel and the rest of the Gulf. To date the U.S. State Department has not revealed its policy vis-àvis Iranian expansionism.

This adds to the threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Today there are over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon aimed at Israel. Many are placed within civilian populations – often in the homes of Lebanese families, making any military response complex and laden with difficult decisions.

Israeli–Palestinian Issue

Members also gained a new perspective on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Internationally, the two-state solution is assumed to be the only way to bring peace and stability. However, today only a third of Israeli’s believe it is viable and the growing consensus among Israeli leaders is that alternatives must be considered. No one from the Palestinian side is committed to negotiations that recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a nation and will lead to peace.

 

“Some of the assumptions that we have all operated under for a long time – that there has to be a two-state solution, a Palestinian state on the West Bank – some of those assumptions are now being questioned… people look at Gaza as a negative example of what can happen.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry

“The solution to the Israeli – Palestinian issue will not happen as a result of a week-long summit somewhere, but will take a longer-term generational shift… now [is] the season to move specific projects and make progress “one bite at a time” rather than with one big agreement.”
Sen. James Lankford

Hearing from Dr. Barkay of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Settlements in Judea and Samaria

The previous U.S. administration’s policy of “not one brick” on construction in Judea and Samaria is no longer feasible. Building freezes are stifling natural growth and causing housing prices to skyrocket. A number of alternatives have been proposed, but members realize there is no simple or immediate solution. And they see some significant ways they can facilitate progress.

Embassy Move to Jerusalem

On the diplomatic front, members heard a number of presentations advocating the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, including one from U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. As Jerusalem Mayor Barkat said, “It is time for a bold move.”

Congressional Members planting vines at the National Leadership Center in Ariel.

The tour covered virtually all geographical areas of Israel. Here are the main locations where the tour went: (Not in order of travel but somewhat by general location)

Taking Action

Ultimately, the tour is about taking action. “It was our best trip ever,” says Heather Johnston, “largely because of the level of authority we took. The congressional delegates were able to sit together and make decisions confidently and know that they could accomplish what they are planning.”

Since the tour, a number of key action steps have been implemented and more are planned for implementation in 2018.

The Mount of Olives

Members at the Church of Saint Anne following a visit to the Pools of Bethesda.