Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) issued the following statement regarding his visit last week to Jerusalem, Israel, where he held meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, as well as with the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad), Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and other officials.
"This was my fifteenth trip to Israel as a Member of Congress. I truly appreciate the warmth and hospitality of the Israeli people. I believe that this was a key opportunity to meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders on a wide range of issues concerning political developments in Israel, regional security in the Middle East, and the U.S.-Israeli partnership.
"I am deeply grateful for the candid conversations we had regarding the results of the January 22, 2013 parliamentary election, including Prime Minister Netanyahu's continued efforts to form a coalition government. Furthermore, we discussed the current state of relations between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the ongoing peace process.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, and I also touched upon a significant concern to Israel and the United States alike: challenges to the right of Israel to defend itself and protect its people. From Hamas and Hezbollah to political instability in the Middle East to Iran's nuclear aspirations, one thing remains clear. The United States must continue to support Israel's right to self-defense, increase its engagement in the region, and work towards finding a fair solution that enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, security, and prosperity.
"We have a responsibility to help protect freedom and democracy around the world, and the future integrity of Israel and the region as a whole depends on our willingness to uphold our shared values. As Co-Chair of the Democratic Israel Working Group, I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to further strengthen our special relationship with Israel."
Hastings was part of a Congressional delegation led by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). Also joining him were Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance at the U.S. Department of Commerce, Michael C. Camuñez. Additionally, the delegation traveled to Turkey, where they held meetings in Ankara with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan. They also traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border, visiting North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Patriot missile batteries with officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the Kilis Refugee Camp. In Istanbul, they met with members of the Syrian opposition, Joint American Business Forum of Turkey, and Students from Bahçeşehir University. Lastly, the delegation traveled to Vienna, Austria to attend the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly's (OSCE PA) 12th Winter Meeting. Over 200 parliamentarians gathered in Vienna for the Winter Meeting, which featured a special debate on the situation in Syria, the Sahel, and North Africa.
Hastings, a President Emeritus of the OSCE PA and the current Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, opened the debate by appealing to parliamentarians to examine their consciences when dealing with the crisis in Syria. "I ask each of you, as a father and as a mother," said Hastings, referring to children being killed in Syria, "how would you feel if the world stood by and did very little" in response to such a tragedy in their own countries. During the debate that he moderated, entitled "How OSCE countries should respond to crises in Syria, the Sahel, and North Africa," Hastings lamented that he has seen confusion on how to respond to the crisis. He urged members of the OSCE PA to look out for the common good and set aside national rivalries in coming to a consensus on an international response. Specifically, he called for arms transfers to Syria to be halted and for Bashar al-Assad to be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to stand trial for war crimes.