Rep.-elect Denver Riggleman lands in Israel, Palestinian Territory

Private meetings held this week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, PLO leader Erekat

He’s yet to be sworn into office and already Rep.-elect Denver Riggleman has huddled this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat.

And yesterday, the newly elected Republican representing Rappahannock County in the U.S. Congress ducked into a just-discovered Hezbollah “attack tunnel” that Netanyahu claimed this week was built to infiltrate Israel for a killing and kidnapping spree.

Rep.-elect Denver Riggleman this week on the Pilgrimage Road beneath Jerusalem. Courtesy photo

“Incredibly surprised,” Riggleman told the Rappahannock News in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv late Tuesday night, referring to everything he’s seen and experienced since arriving in Israel on Sunday evening. He’s accompanied by two other Republicans — including Texas Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, the former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan — and three Democrats.

“It’s a bipartisan trip,” said Riggleman, describing the group’s private one-hour meeting with Netanyahu as an “overarching strategic security briefing” that included “in depth” questions to the prime minister, his answers kept off the record.

One of Rep.-elect Denver Riggleman’s Jerusalem stops this week was to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Melissa Delcour | Rappahannock News

The six-member American cadre also met with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister who is leader of the opposition as a member of the Knesset.

“We discussed multiple strategic and political problems between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Riggleman, “as well as issues with other foreign powers and challenges for the Israeli state.

“I went to Ramallah and the Palestinian Territory with armed escort,” he said of his meeting with Erakat, who as secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization has led the Palestinian peace negotiations.

Erekat has accused the Trump administration of trying to orchestrate a “coup” to depose the PLO leadership.

Just this week, however, President Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner went aboard Fox News to announce that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has been going on for way too long. And the way the people are living in Gaza and West Bank right now is not acceptable.”

Kushner added, “We are hopeful in the next couple of months we will put out our plan which, again, not every side is [going to] love, but there is enough in it and enough reasons why people should take it and move forward.

“This plan will keep the Israeli people safe, give them a good future, and also give a real opportunity and hope for the Palestinian people so that they can live much better lives. I’ve been saying a lot that . . . you should not be hijacking your children’s future because of your grandparents’ conflict.”

Asked about Kushner’s comments, Riggleman said they reflect a “variation of the two-state solution” — two states for two groups of people — in this case an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

“There have been many discussions surrounding the possibility of a two-state solution,” he noted. “I’m not pessimistic, but I’m not entirely hopeful [of such an outcome]. That’s my personal opinion.”

Riggleman said a highlight of his working trip was a visit to Pilgrimage Road, the ancient path uncovered by archaeologists that was used for ritual processions ascending from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount.

“It’s one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had,” said the congressman-elect. “It’s believed Jesus walked this road 2,000 years ago.”

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at