‘Why is it that the one ally we have in that part of the world [Israel], that we have the right to publicly chastise them? We would not do that with any other friend,” Joe Biden said in a well-publicized speech.
“As much as the Middle East is always on our minds, the best thing we can do is keep it off the U.S. and world press,” he said, noting that criticism “emboldens those in the Middle East and around the world who still harbor as their sacred goal the elimination of Israel.”
That speech was delivered by then-Sen. Biden to the Zionist Organization of America in November 2001.
Last week, as vice president, he delivered another deeply supportive speech about Israel in Tel Aviv entitled “The Enduring Partnership Between Israel and America.” It contained a brief, sharp condemnation of the Israeli government for announcing construction of 1,600 housing units for Jews to be built in east Jerusalem in the next few years. But the overall theme was the unbreakable bonds between America and Israel, with Biden asserting that “there is absolutely no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to security. None.”
Unfortunately, a day later the administration in Washington lashed out in anger at the Netanyahu government for its painfully ill-timed statement about new housing plans just when Biden was in Israel to announce a renewal of negotiations between Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority.
Clearly, you don’t embarrass the president of the United States publicly without a price to pay, especially when the administration has been working tirelessly to bring the PA and Israel back into talks, however tenuous, through shuttle diplomacy.
Still, it was striking to read and hear the blunt, harsh language used by the administration back in Washington against Israel, suggesting that relations between the two countries were in jeopardy. Coming as it did just a day after Biden sought to assure Israel of America’s undying loyalty and support, it certainly caused credibility problems for the U.S. with its allies around the world. Moreover, Washington’s rhetoric against Israel was far tougher than the president’s words about Iran last summer in the aftermath of Tehran’s rigged elections and violence against unarmed citizens.
One gets the feeling the administration wants to weaken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at home, though such efforts usually boomerang. There’s a difference between tough love and revenge. Despite Israel’s serious diplomatic blunder last week, Washington should be focusing on its long-term goals — shared with Israel — of negating Iran’s plan to develop and nuclear arsenal, and bringing peace and stability to the volatile Middle East. That is achieved by strengthening, not weakening, the region’s only democracy and steadfast ally of the U.S.
There are sound arguments against building more Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, but those, and other vital issues affecting Palestinians and Israelis should be discussed in direct negotiations — not with the U.S. serving as the Palestinians’ proxy. How frustrating that the Palestinian Authority has resisted such talks, and ignored its commitments, over the years.
The administration wants very much to see a Palestinian state created alongside Israel, and Israel realizes that it is in its best interest as well in the long term. That’s why Jerusalem supports a two-state solution; the Palestinians, though, cannot bring themselves even to utter the words “Jewish state in the region.”
Stability, if not peace, between Jerusalem and Ramallah can only be achieved by bolstering the two parties’ sense of mutual trust and benefits, not by twisting Israel’s arm into concessions that could undermine its security.
“It is not right for you to tell them [Israel], nor for me, what is in their best interests,” Biden told the ZOA audience in 2001 in speaking out against arguing publicly with Jerusalem. “We should give them the right to determine what chances they will take.”
He was right then, and his words still apply.