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Toomey, in Israel, Sees Security Needs Up Close

June 9, 2011
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U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu less than two weeks after the premier -- and many in the pro-Israel community -- vociferously objected to President Barack Obama's call to base Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed upon land swaps.

But speaking with reporters last week, a day after returning from Israel, Pennsylvania's junior senator said the latest diplomatic incident between Jerusalem and Washington didn't dominate the conversation.

"We didn't dwell on that," Toomey said, adding that most of the discussion focused on broader political, economic and strategic challenges.

The prime minister, he said, "has made very clear his position on the '67 borders. I think the administration backtracked a little bit when they realized they made a gaffe."

The Israelis hold "only one card," he said."The card they hold is land. For them to give that up without getting the security commitment they need from the other side would be foolish."

Toomey and U.S. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) traveled to the Jewish state on a trip organized by the American-Israel Education Foundation, the arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee known for bringing lawmakers to Israel.

The three-day trip came against the backdrop of some freshman lawmakers, most notably U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), questioning the wisdom of giving billions in aid to Israel when the United States faces a huge budget deficit.

During his three terms in the House, Toomey voted against the foreign aid appropriations bill, which includes American military assistance to Israel.

But since winning his Senate seat, Toomey, known as a staunch fiscal conservative, has worked to reassure pro-Israel activists.

In addition to meeting with Netanyahu, the two Republican lawmakers also held talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and assorted business leaders.

Toomey said he told Fayyad that he can't support American economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the government includes Hamas, which recently signed a unity pact with Fatah. But he said he would wait until the fall -- when Palestinian elections are expected and he can evaluate how the Hamas-Fatah coalition has played out -- to determine whether he would actually push for an end to Palestinian aid.

One pro-Israel activist who did not wish to be identified said that Toomey, since taking office, has gone a long way to assuage concerns about aid to Israel.

In April, he was one of 11 GOP senators who signed a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging no cuts in Israel aid.

He made a similar plea during a speech at last month's AIPAC policy conference.

"I make no bones about the fact that I am, if not the most fiscally conservative member of the Senate, I'm in the running," he said, adding that "this commitment to Israel needs to be honored in full, and I will stand by that commitment."

Still, speaking to reporters after his trip, he said he still has concerns about how the United States handles foreign aid and won't commit to supporting a foreign aid bill until he has seen it and studied the specifics.

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