US Congressman Steve Daines said this week it makes sense to include his seven-day trip to Israel as a part of his ‘Montana Jobs Tour.’
“As Montana looks to the future, we’re gonna be highly dependent to grow our economy based on exports,” Daines said.
He visited several Montana towns last week as part of the tour, including Bozeman, Butte, and Billings.
Israel is a very small piece of Montana’s export market right now—about $1.5 million was exported last year. Daines hopes that could increase through promoting Montana’s agricultural products and taking advantage of a growing Israeli tech sector. He also pointed to Sonju Industrial, an aerospace and defense company based in Kalispell which is providing parts for the ‘Iron Dome,’ which is an Israeli rocket defense system.
Daines is joining 25 other members of congress on the trip, to learn about US-Israeli relations, the peace process with Palestine, and political trends in the region.
Peace talks between Israel and Palestine resume this week after nearly five years of silence. Israel released more than two dozen Palestinian political prisoners ahead of the talks as a sign of good faith. But, Israel also just approved the construction of nearly 900 settlements in a disputed area of Jerusalem, which could undermine those showings of good will. Daines said at least the two sides are sitting down together again.
“These issues have been around for thousands of years and likely won’t get solved in the next few months,” Daines said. “But (what’s) important is both sides remain committed to a process of reconciliation, negotiation, and peace.”
The trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation--a charity affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group. Still, Daines said he is meeting with some Palestinian officials on the trip, including a scheduled meeting with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.
He said the US needs to maintain close ties with Israel, our biggest ally and the strongest democracy in the region.
“It’s critically important I think that members of Congress understand what’s going on over here,” he said. “To get the bigger picture, to make us more effective lawmakers back in Washington.”
Daines returns to the US at the end of the week.