(JTA) — The U.S.-Israel bond is unbreakable, but the United States will keep both sides accountable for their actions, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said.
Biden’s address Thursday at Tel Aviv University, meant to have been an expression of friendship, was altered in part by Israel’s announcement this week that it planned to build 1,600 new housing units in disputed eastern Jerusalem.
Biden started by reaffirming the "unbreakable bond" between Israel and the United States, as he had done after his arrival earlier this week. The bond was "impervious to any shifts in either country and in either country’s partisan politics," Biden said to applause.
He said it was critical for the international community to understand the bond: "Every time progress is made, it’s been made when the rest of the world knows there’s no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security, none — no space."
Biden was blunt, however, when it came to his anger at being blindsided by the announcement of the housing starts, when he was in the West Bank meeting Palestinian leaders. "That decision undermined the trust required for negotiations," Biden said, and under instructions from President Obama, "I condemned it immediately and unequivocally." He added, to applause: "Sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth."
Biden accepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s explanation that he too was caught unawares by the announcement and praised Netanyahu for offering to set up a mechanism to prevent future such surprises.
Biden said such actions will have consequences. "The United States will continue to hold both sides accountable for any statements or any actions that inflame tensions and influence these talks," he said.