Analysis: Veep shows Israel some love

In Jerusalem, Biden reiterates Washington's "absolute, total unvarnished commitment to Israel's security."

March 10, 2010 03:43
3 minute read.
Joe Biden and his wife Jill arrive in Israel.

Biden arrives 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

After nearly a year of the Obama administration keeping a platonic distance from Israel and refraining from any demonstrative public acts of affection, Vice President Joe Biden smooched Israel full on the mouth Tuesday in the middle of the public square.

The cornerstone of the Israeli-US relationship, Biden said in a prepared statement alongside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after their two-hour meeting in Jerusalem, “is our absolute, total unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security. Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the US and Israel. There is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”

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What makes Biden’s comments about “no space” between Israel and the US so noteworthy is that it is the reverse of what President Barack Obama told a group of Jewish leaders he met last July amid concerns that he was being too tough on Israel.

During the meeting with 16 officials of Jewish organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Obama that diplomatic progress in the Middle East usually took place when the public perception was that there was “no daylight” between the two countries.

Privately, the two countries can speak candidly to one another, Hoenlein said, but publicly they must be seen as being on the same page.

Without hesitating, Obama disagreed, and in reference to the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, said, “Eight years of no daylight, eight years of no progress.”

Hoenlein demurred, saying that this period had seen diplomatic progress on the road map, at Annapolis, and with the Arab peace initiative. But the president had spoken, and the president had set the tone.

Nine months later, Biden was here to try and dramatically change that tone. Someone, it seemed, had apparently gotten through to the White House and convinced the powers there that it was critical for the Israeli public to feel that the US was squarely behind them. So they sent over Biden to show us the love.

And he delivered the goods. Consider the following comment by Biden prior to his meeting with President Shimon Peres: Israel “captured my heart. I make no bones about it. That does not mean I do not understand and have a great empathy for the circumstances of the Palestinians, but Israel captured my heart and my imagination.”

Or consider the comment made after Netanyahu – like a Jewish uncle giving a distant cousin a bar mitzva gift – offered the vice president a certificate acknowledging that a ring of trees had been planted in honor of Biden’s mother, Catherine Eugenia Jean Finnegan Biden, who died at age 92 in January.

Biden took the certificate and said, “My love for your country was watered by this Irish lady, who was proudest of me when I was working with and for the security of Israel.”

Little came out about what Netanyahu and Biden discussed behind closed doors, but out in the open, it was clear that Biden was on a mission to reassure an Israeli public not fully confident in Obama’s support, that Israel could count on the White House.

Facing the twin challenge of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program and moving the diplomatic process forward with the Palestinians, the US needs the Israeli public’s confidence. For example, if the US hopes to forestall an IDF attack on Iran, it is important for the public to feel that Washington is unwaveringly committed to Israel’s security and is determinedly working to avert the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

Second, in order for the Israeli public to make bold choices toward peace, or – as Biden said – to “take risks for peace,” it has to have confidence that the White House won’t abandon it.

Over the last year, as public opinion polls in Israel have shown, that confidence has been shaken. Biden made rhetorically clear Tuesday that he was here precisely to firm that confidence up.

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