Keep whatever disagreements exist between the US and Israel in perspective, because there is no daylight at all between Israel’s security and the US, Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday night.
With these words, Biden – speaking at the annual Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington – provided a sharp contrast to comments made by Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Labor party leader Isaac Herzog as the election campaign begins that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brought US-Israel relations to a nadir.
“It there weren’t an Israel we would have to invent one,” Biden said in a fiercely pro-Israel address. “We always talk about Israel from this perspective, as if we’re doing [them] some favor. We are meeting a moral obligation. But it is so much more than a moral obligation. It is overwhelmingly in the self-interest of the United States of America to have a secure and democratic friend, a strategic partner like Israel. It is no favor. It is an obligation, but also a strategic necessity.”
Biden said that both he and President Barack Obama are firm in their commitment that the US has “an obligation to match the steel and spine of the people of Israel with an iron-clad, nonnegotiable commitment to Israel’s physical security.”
That is why, he said, the US has given Israel more than $17 billion in security assistance since the Obama administration took office in 2009.
Noting that Netanyahu has been a personal friend for more than 30 years and kidding that he “loves” Netanyahu even though he has disagreed with him intensively over the years on many issues, Biden said “the American people, the Israeli people, our governments” are “close friends.”
As friends, the two countries have “tactical differences” and are able to speak honestly – not avoid them, Biden said. But, he stressed, “we have no difference in our strategic perspective.
“Let’s not make more of what are normal disagreements that occur between friends than is warranted,” the vice president advised.
On Friday, Herzog told the forum that the “policies of the Israeli government lend us to total lack of trust between administrations and leaders. It’s essential to have trust between the leaders. Not only the government level, but also the leaders. It’s a fact that there is no trust at all between the president and the prime minister. And we will have to attend to it.”
Biden defended the recent seven- month extension in talks between world powers and Iran, saying that Israel from the very beginning has been involved in every “jot and tittle” of the US negotiations with Tehran.
“There has been a lot of malarkey around our position on Iran. Let me state it absolutely clearly. We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period. End of discussion. It will not happen on our watch,” he declared.
The Joint Action Plan with Iran negotiated in 2013 and since extended twice has only given Tehran very modest sanctions relief, while stopping its further nuclear development, he said.
While Netanyahu has stated that he feels the world needs to ratchet up sanctions on Tehran to make the Iranian leaders more pliable, Biden made clear that he disagreed.
Additional sanctions now could lead to the “worst of all worlds,” by breaking up the coalition of countries imposing sanctions, not reaching a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear program, and losing any leverage to achieve one, he said.
On the Palestinian issue, Biden said “reaching a two-state solution for two peoples” was even more important for Israel’s future as a “democratic homeland for the Jewish people” than keeping Iran from becoming “a nuclear-armed nation.”
Despite the difficulties, “there is no choice but to continue,” he said.
Acknowledging that there was a greater confluence of interests between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors than ever before, he said the only way to realize the opportunity was for Israel and the Palestinians to make “progress in peace.”
“All sides have more work to do to lessen the tensions and prevent further provocations,” he said, adding that Washington was “frank about this with the Palestinians. We have tough and honest conversations about what they need to do, and they need to do so much more to combat instances of incitement, including on social media.”
Likewise, he said, “We are frank with our Israeli friends about the actions we consider counterproductive – expanding settlement activity and construction, including in sensitive areas in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Meanwhile, he called the demolition of the homes of families of “attackers” a form of collective punishment that “risks stoking tensions in the future.”
Additionally, Biden indicated the US has discussed with Israel its concern about vigilante attacks and the need both to prevent them and bring the perpetrators to justice, something he said the government has been doing.
Regarding closer Arab-Israeli ties, Biden said, somewhat cryptically, that there is some “quiet dialogue between security officials from countries whose diplomats wouldn’t greet each other in airports in the recent past and still won’t.”Noa Amouyal contributed to this report.