While on a Middle East tour that has fueled speculation that he will run for president in 2016, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio arrived in Israel on Wednesday, wading quickly into politically sensitive territory by saying Jerusalem was “of course the capital of Israel.”
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Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida and a rising star in his party, made the comment during a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, according to the Associated Press. The United States, like many other countries, has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, instead maintaining that the city’s status can only be determined through negotiations with the Palestinians.
Rubio said two states living side by side in peace and security must be established. The question is, he said, whether Israel’s security can be assured.
The solution for the conflict must be reached in direct negotiations − no third side can force an arrangement, he said.
Rubio said the United States shouldn’t dictate policy about the settlements, as this issue should be discussed by the sides and not by the United States.
A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio received a briefing on the country’s Iron Dome anti-missile system and flew over the West Bank in an Israel Defense Forces helicopter. Later, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss strategies for advancing the peace process and strengthening the Israeli-American partnership.
Rubio said the Iranian issue is not an Israeli problem but a world problem, insisting that an armed Iran is not something the United States can live with or contain. “The president made that clear in his statements. We hope the sanctions work, but we’re also preparing for the possibility that they won’t,” he said.
“I appreciate your support, appreciate the tremendous support of the American people, bipartisan support, for our security and our quest for peace, and we’ve got our hands full with both security and the quest for peace,” Netanyahu said in public remarks.
“Well, you live in a challenging neighborhood,” Rubio replied. “But the Israeli-American relationship is one of the most important ones we have, and certainly our commitment to that partnership is bipartisan and it should remain that way.”
When Rubio pointed to U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel as a sign of that bipartisan support, Netanyahu replied, “We look forward to receiving him.”
The meeting between the two was held behind closed doors, but a photo that appeared on the prime minister’s Instagram account shows them smiling. In the photo, Netanyahu can been seen tapping water bottles in a toast with Rubio. Last week, the senator suffered from a dry mouth while delivering his televised response to Obama’s State of the Union address. In an awkward moment that overshadowed the content of his speech and went viral, he reached off camera for a water bottle and took a quick sip.
Before arriving in Israel, Rubio held talks in Jordan with King Abdullah II. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority later this week.
An official trip to Israel has become a rite of passage for American presidential aspirants. Last month, Senator Rand Paul made his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, raising speculation that the Kentucky Republican may run in 2016. Obama famously visited as a senator in 2008 and will return for the first time as president next month for a trip that has been enthusiastically promoted by the prime minister’s office. An official logo for the visit, which has been dubbed Unbreakable Alliance, was unveiled on Tuesday.