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MinnPost: Sen. Al Franken on peace process, national service, U.S.-Israel bond

Today, I sat down for an exclusive interview with United States Senator Al Franken about his recent trip to Israel with the American Israel Education Foundation, AIPAC’s educational arm.

His trip was filled with meetings and dinners with a wide variety of different kinds of people from those in Israel’s medical technology industry, to terror victims, to Israeli parliament members and the Prime Ministers of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Senator even went to a synagogue in Jerusalem on Friday night for religious services, and he and his wife Franni joined their Rabbi and several community members for a Sabbath meal. Overall, Senator Franken said he had a fabulous time and learned a lot about Israel, its politics and its people.

Senator Franken discussed Israel’s peace process with the Palestinians in his private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In meeting with Netanyahu, he said, “My job wasn’t to try to convince him of anything. My job was to get to know him a little better and have him get to know me better and to ask questions.”

In reflecting on those two pivotal meetings, Senator Franken said that one of the things he found fascinating was that ”there seems to be this basic agreement that the peace process is stalled” and everyone seemed to be okay with that. And “[Palestinian Prime Minister] Fayyad was basically saying, let’s use the time here in the West Bank to try to build up civic institutions to build up economically in order to make ourselves ready to be a state.” However, although impressed with Fayyad, Senator Franken expressed the caveat that it was his “sense that [Fayyad] does not have a huge constituency. He’s not Fatah, he’s not Hamas.”

Senator Franken discussed with me some of the ways that he believes that the United States benefits from its strong relationship with Israel, including in the area of emergency medicine. “We’ve already learned a tremendous amount from Israel. In fact, in Afghanistan and in Iraq we’ve had fewer fatalities from wounds than in any conflict we’ve been in and its in no small part because of what Israel has learned about treating trauma and treating it immediately.”

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