PARKERSBURG - A U.S. senator from West Virginia doesn't believe peace is near between the Israelis and the Palestinians until there's a mutual agreement each side has a right to sovereignty.
"That's what has not happened yet," said Sen. Joe Manchin.
Manchin, a Democrat, and Rabbi Victor Urecki of the B'nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston were in Israel this week. Manchin, accompanied by his wife, Gayle, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, senior government officers and businessmen and visited holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was buried, for Mass on Monday morning.
The senator spoke to reporters in West Virginia from Israel from where the contingent will leave for the states this morning. The trip comes after the deadline passed for the peace talks organized by the U.S. intended to find a solution to the conflict.
Israel is an ally of the United States in the Middle East, he said.
"We're involved over here whether we want to or not," Manchin said.
The purpose of the trip was to learn first-hand whether the Israelis and the Palestinians can come together, a "pathway to peace" to end hostilities, Manchin said. That doesn't appear possible, he said.
Ever vigilant against attack, the situation is tense in Israel, Manchin said.
From the Golan Heights, which is under the control of Israel, Manchin said he watched the fighting in Syria. He could hear the report of the cannons and see and hear the shells explode.
"It's a tough neighborhood they live in," Manchin said.
On other issues, Manchin said he is first concerned with correcting problems with the delays for care in the Veterans Administration before calling for anyone's resignation. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, resigned on Friday amid the accusations the VA manipulated waiting lists to cover up lengthy delays for thousands of veterans attempting to schedule appointments.
"I want to fix that problem," said Manchin, who deferred comment on VA hospitals in West Virginia pending an accounting.
Manchin also said other systems may be available for veterans, such as in Alaska where there are no VA hospitals, but serves veterans through established publicly funded clinics. Manchin questioned why such services can't be used by veterans.
"Why can't our veterans access that," he said.
Manchin also said he will support Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democrat nominee for U.S. senator, who is running against U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
"As much as I can," but will not participate in a negative mudslinging campaign, Manchin said.