'US has no better friend than Israel'

Biden says he accepts PM's stance on Ramat Shlomo building plan.

biden tel aviv university 311 (photo credit: AP)
biden tel aviv university 311
(photo credit: AP)
US Vice President Joe Biden tried to put the furor over announcement of plans to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo behind him, saying during a speech Thursday at Tel Aviv University that he condemned the move because as a friend he was compelled to "deliver the hardest truth," but adding that he appreciated the clarifications he received on the matter from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau.
He opened the speech by stressing the importance of US-Israel friendship and Washington's commitment to the security of the Jewish state, saying that "US President Barack Obama and myself know that the US has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel."
Biden said that he realized that construction in east Jerusalem "is a very touchy subject in Israel," but because Israel's decision to advance the housing project, in his view, "undermined the trust required to conduct the negotiations, I – at the request of President Obama – condemned it immediately."
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After pausing for a moment to listen to the applause that accompanied these words, Biden explained how he, "such a strong supporter of Israel," could speak out so strongly.
"Quite frankly, folks, only a friend can deliver the hardest truth," he said.
"I appreciate, by the way, the response given by the Prime Minister, who today is putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence that sort of event, and who clarified that the beginning of actual construction of this particular project would likely take several years. That is significant, because it gives negotiations the time to resolve this as well as other issues."
Biden said that the announcement of the plan was interpreted in the West Bank as meaning that the 1,600 units would be constructed immediately.
"Look, folks, as we move on, I promise you this, the US will continue to hold both sides accountable for any statements or any actions that will inflame tension or prejudice the actions of these talks," the US vice president said.
Just prior to Biden's speech, the Prime Minister's Office, in what was apparently a move coordinated with the US, put out a statement saying that Netanyahu summoned "Interior Minister Eli Yishai and expressed his displeasure at the timing of the announcement of another stage in the planning process of a Jerusalem building project."
"In light of the ongoing disagreement between Israel and the US on building in Jerusalem," the statement read, Netanyahu "said there was no need to advance the planning process this week and instructed Interior Minister Yishai to adopt procedures to prevent such an incident from recurring."
According to the statement, Netanyahu spoke to Biden and "expressed his regret over the unfortunate timing. The Prime Minister informed the Vice President that this specific project had moved through various planning stages over several years. The final approval process will in all likelihood take more than a year and the beginning of actual construction would likely take several years."
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the US vice president called for a two-states solution, saying that peace with Palestinians is "profoundly" in Israel's interest, and stressing that Washington is committed to Israel's security.
"From my experience, the one precondition for progress is that the rest of the world knows this - there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security - none. That's the only time that progress has been made," he said.
Biden went on to say that the "status-quo is not sustainable," because Israel could not remain a Jewish state while the Arab population continues to grow and a Palestinian state has not been established.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are both real partners for peace, Biden said, urging Israel to seize the opportunity to achieve real peace with the Palestinians.
Biden also shared some memories from his first visit to Israel as a young senator in 1973, when he met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir and with Yitzhak Rabin.
The US vice president said Meir told him that Israel's secret weapon in its against the Arab states was that "we have nowhere else to go."
Biden told the audience they must "make no mistake about America's resolve" in its fight against terrorism and against the Iranian nuclear program.
He said that the Islamic republic has grown more dangerous in the lastdecade, with Iran funding and supporting Hizbullah and Hamas, and"intimidating both its neighbors and its own people."
America was determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Biden said.
"May God protect you and may God protect Israel," the US vice president concluded.
AP contributed to this report