Presidential candidate Joe Sestak on Israel, Palestine
“I believe a negotiated settlement based on a two-state solution is best for Israel — our closest friend in the Middle East — and for the Palestinian people. A lasting peace is in everyone’s interest, including the rest of the region and the United States. It’s why I said President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem was a mistake that created yet another roadblock to peace. As President, I will work with Israel to take the responsible action of moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv, where it should remain until the final status of Jerusalem is settled through a bilateral agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The United States has historically played an important role in the region as a mediator, but we can no longer credibly fill that role when we take actions that are both provocative and impediments to a permanent resolution for Israel’s enduring security. Without a balanced process, which permits both parties to work toward a negotiated settlement, neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be able to achieve that and live in peace and security. The status quo cannot continue indefinitely – Israel must not just be temporarily safe, but permanently secure.
“Some have criticized my position on Middle East peace, falsely saying it is not supportive of Israel. The reality is I have a long history of working alongside our Israeli friends to strengthen Israel’s security — going back to my days in the armed forces as well as in Congress. My record is second to none. I have said many times that if my Navy service called for it, I would have proudly laid down my life for our ally Israel without hesitation. Over forty years I have visited Israel at least eight times, including overseeing the first military exercise between a Muslim country (Turkey) and Israel as the senior U.S. military officer in charge of Operation “Reliant Mermaid”. I also worked to integrate one of my Aegis cruisers with Israel’s air defense system to protect it against missiles expected to be launched by Iraq during the upcoming war before I took my aircraft carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf to begin the precursor strikes against Saddam Hussein.
“When I became a Congressman, key figures in Israeli leadership reached out to me for help multiple times because they knew I was a true friend and ally. For example, at the invitation of the then-Ambassador of Israel to the United States, Salai Meridor, he and his wife had me and my wife for a Chanukah dinner at his residence, along with the Commander-in-Chief for the Israeli Navy, Eli Marom. They told me how Israel could not get permission to procure the Navy’s state-of-the-art Littoral Combat Ship. I got it for them. Similarly, at a meeting with Arieh Herzog, Director of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, and Brigadier General Pinchas Barel Buchris, Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, we discussed the threat of Iran and its long-range missiles. They then requested my help in ensuring that U.S. insistence that Israel procure the SM-3 missile defense system would not prevent them from jointly developing and procuring their own Arrow III system. I successfully worked to convince the US government not to stand in the way of Israel’s request.
“My wife, Susan, has also worked in Israel with their military on supportive programs. The military of Israel never hesitated to ask my support – in the Navy and in Congress – and always received it enthusiastically.
“My enduring support for a two state solution will never end, and why I will oppose any mistaken action where threatens this path to ensure not just Israel’s safety, but its permanent security. As a friend of Israel, I will never hesitate to speak up for what supports Israel’s permanent security but also clearly point out what it is planning or doing that prevents achieving it. Nor will I allow my friendship toward Israel to diminish my respect for the Palestinian people and their ultimate right to self-determination. And I will, and do, criticize Palestinian leadership when their behavior demands it as well. But above all, I will treat both sides with respect and commit to deep personal engagement in finally winning the peace. I still believe that a two-state solution is — and must be — possible, for that it is the best way to secure a lasting peace.”