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Good afternoon everyone and thank you for being here. As many of you know already, my attendance here today has caused quite a stir within the Jewish community and on the blogosphere. Let me begin by saying that I am a longtime, dedicated advocate of a two-state solution and supporter of an engaged peace process in the Middle East. I am committed fully to a peaceful and secure democratic state of Israel that is a home for the Jewish people that exists in harmony and security with an independent and autonomous state which is a

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secure home for the Palestinian people. I have been involved in issues of Israel/Palestine and peace in the Middle East for over fifteen years. My position in support of a two-state solution is clear and has always been so; to say or imply otherwise is simply incorrect. What is also clear is that the issues at play to establishing lasting peace in the region are numerous and complex in nature. I witnessed these issues first hand on a trip to the region in June of 2009. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza with two of my colleagues

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Representatives Brian Baird (D-WA) and Peter Welch (D-VT), and the New America Foundation to further my understanding of the situation in the region. I look forward to returning. During my tenure in Congress, I have also travelled in the greater region with other colleagues -- to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, and Turkey. I ve made two trips to Afghanistan to better understand and assess our involvement there and the larger political and security frame in which we live and make decisions. Speaking with religious and governmental leaders, civil society leaders

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and others has helped me tremendously to gauge the nuances throughout the region the interplay of regional, national, security, and strategic interests. Here in the United States I have met publicly and privately with many individuals on issues of the Middle East and the broader region. As a Christian, I have deepened my understanding of Judaism and Islam faith, culture and history. These experiences have given me a more complete understanding of the beauty and challenges of all our communities as we struggle to make this American experiment work.

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I am more committed now than ever before to the belief that we have no hope of achieving peace unless everyone everyone -- is willing to at a minimum engage in open and honest debate and discussion of these complex issues that have perplexed generations before us. That debate must take place internationally and domestically. This is a tall order that, in my view, will be met only by courageous leaders who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones every great leader faces a point at which he or she must stand alone or apart for the greater good, the common good. I hold the

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leaders in the region and our President in my prayers for their courage. Every day of negotiation, even on the difficult days of offers and counteroffers, is a day that provides another opportunity for courageous leaders to develop the trust that will be required for a lasting peace. For the world s sake, for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and Jews, we need courageous leaders. Some have acted deliberately to interfere with the slim hopes for peace -- they should be condemned. Some have posited that peace in

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the Middle East will never be achieved they should be ignored. Others have speculated as to the motives and motivations of the various parties and leaders they should be discouraged. I am not one of those naysayers. Despite the current challenges, I am more hopeful than ever before that two states will be realized in the context of the current negotiations. I have expressed on more than one occasion, in public and in private, my gratitude that the United States has been fully engaged since the beginning of this Administration as a demonstration of our

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commitment as Americans for a secure Israel and an independent state for the Palestinian people. I believe that resolving the outstanding issues in this march towards two states is in the interests of Israelis, Palestinians, the region and, importantly, the security interests of the United States. I remain concerned about the ongoing violence on both sides that may be an effort to derail the peace process. I remain concerned that Israeli and Palestinian families suffer as a result of this violence. And, I remain concerned about the tragic and ongoing

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humanitarian situation in Gaza. I hope that none of these issues, nor the lifting of the settlement moratorium, will prove to be insurmountable obstacles to continuing the fragile negotiations at hand. I hope that the parties continue to exercise the courage and leadership that are required in order to achieve a lasting peace. During my trip to the region in 2009 through reading the newspaper, watching television, and above all talking to people, I was also struck by the incredible range of dialogue that occurs in Israel on issues of peace

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and security a breadth of dialogue that we need desperately in the United States. It is disturbing to me that my clearly defined position regarding a two-state solution was questioned so quickly and intensely simply because I agreed to speak before a group of my constituents about these issues, not all of whom share the entirety of my views, nor I theirs. These allegations ensued even before I had spoken a single word to all of you, perhaps in an effort to chill my thoughts, perhaps to censor my words, or perhaps to even discourage me from speaking to you at all.

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That is disappointing. All too frequently, these issues are seen as black and white. This oversimplified approach does not reflect realities on the ground among Israelis and Palestinians. It was important and interesting to hear Jewish settlers speak of the passion they have and the deep connection they feel to the land. Equally important and interesting was hearing similar passions expressed by Palestinians. Understanding the deeply held beliefs on both sides is at the crux of understanding and solving this conflict.

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During my tenure in Congress, I have met with constituents with whom I agree and disagree in whole or in part in relation to the Middle East peace process. And I am proud and humbled to say that I have learned tremendously even from those with whom I disagree. As a member of Congress representing people with a wide range of viewpoints on these and other issues, I do not agree always with many individuals or organizations with whom I meet. Nonetheless, it is critical for me to maintain an opportunity for open debate

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and discussion. Thus, I find it aggravating to insinuate that by engaging simply in a discussion or speaking before an organization, or even being supported by an organization or individual, is an endorsement of a particular position or of all the positions or viewpoints espoused by an organization or an individual. I've met with and spoken before business organizations and disagreed with them on financial regulation and reform; with health insurers and pharmaceutical companies and disagreed with them on health care reform; with diplomatic representatives and disagreed

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with them on human rights issues in their countries; with telecommunications companies and disagreed with them on Internet freedom. In a mature democracy, it is critical that we take great lengths to maintain an open, honest, and respectful dialogue even with those with whom we have disagreements in policy or philosophy. This is how I choose to conduct myself in Congress whether the discussion is about Middle East, transportation, or economic policy; and this is how I plan to continue to conduct myself throughout my time in office.

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Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with all of you here today, and for attending today s event. I look forward to speaking with many of you if not today, then in the future.

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