United States Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday evening criticized Israel's so-called “settlement expansion” and personally called out Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over this.
Biden was speaking to the 18,700-strong crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, where he started by saying “we're all united by our unyielding commitment to the survival and success of the Jewish state of Israel.”
Biden sent his condolences to the families of the three Israelis who were murdered in Sunday's terrorist attack in Istanbul, including two victims who were joint American-Israeli citizens.
“Our hearts go out to the families – that phrase almost sounds like its meaningless – but we all know it's a tremendous void that the loss of those innocent victims leave in entire communities, in entire countries.”
The United States “stands alongside our allies in Israel and Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” he stressed.
Biden then went on to discuss what he viewed as the success of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the West last summer and which was implemented recently.
“More than two-thirds of Iran's centrifuges have been removed and most of the enriched uranium – enough for six nuclear bombs – has been shipped out of the country,” he said, adding that the core of the Arak reactor has been filled with cement.
“Iran is much further away from obtaining a nuclear weapon than they were a year ago. Whatever your feelings were about the deal, I hope you're as happy about this as I am,” said Biden, who invoked IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot's recent remarks that the agreement rolled back Iran's nuclear program – in the same way that Secretary of State John Kerry cited those remarks.
“It was the IDF's assessment, not ours,” said the Vice President. “The incentives are aligned for Iran to uphold its side of the deal. We're watching Iran like a hawk. They will never, never, never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.”
“If Iran violates the deal, the United States will act. Our commitment is unambiguous. It will be impossible for the next president not to honor it,” he stressed.
The U.S., he said, “is working with a community of regional parties” to ensure Iran upholds its end of the nuclear deal. This issue was a central part of his recent trip to the Middle East.
“In Israel I met with my good friend, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President [Reuven] Rivlin in Jerusalem,” said Biden. “I spent time in Tel Aviv as well with one of the finest men in the world – President [Shimon] Peres. But as all of you know, my visit did not occur at a peaceful time for Israel.”
He recalled the Jaffa stabbing attack which took place during his visit to Israel, and which occurred just a mile from where he was meeting with Peres. An American citizen, Taylor Force, was murdered in that stabbing.
“An hour later I discovered that my wife, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were even closer. They were having dinner on the beach,” said Biden.
“Israel is a nation of uncommon courage – but it shouldn't have to be this way,” he continued. “That's why while I was there I condemned the attacks. Not just the ones that happened while I was there, but all of them. And I condemned the failure to condemn that atrocious violence. No leader has the right to tolerate terrorism. That's exactly what I said to [Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud] Abbas when I met him in Ramallah. There is no excuse for killing innocents or remaining silent in the face of terrorism.”
Biden admitted that his impression from his Middle East visit is that the prospects for peace are not good at the moment, but reiterated that he believes that the “two-state solution” is the only one that would bring peace.
“I'm Irish and I understand that old hatreds die slowly,” he said, before quoting Theodor Herzl who said, “If you will it – it is no dream.”
Dreams in Israel “have never been impossible because there exists within the Jewish community an iron will. Right now I don't have the answer but I do think we must find a way to renew the will for peace.”
Terrorism must stop and acts of retribution and revenge must stop as well, said the Vice President.
“Terror is terror is terror, and it must be condemned as such – plain and simple, until every leader in the world understands that,” stressed Biden. “Until we all understand that we will not succeed.”
He condemned the PA's actions against Israel in the UN, but in the same breath also criticized what he called “Israel's settlement expansion.”
“Bibi doesn't think so. Bibi believes this can be accommodated, but I don't,” he stressed, “because ['settlement expansion'] is leading us to a one-state reality and that's not sustainable.”
Biden also said that the leaders of some Arab states have told him “we have no closer military ally than Israel” in the fight against terrorist group such as the Islamic State (ISIS), though he did not elaborate as to which countries he was talking about.
“We see the potential for deals that benefit everyone…deals that could increase the economic cooperation, deepen the ties between Israel and its once hostile neighbors,” said Biden.
“There's no guarantee that any of this will happen. Tough choices are needed,” he added, claiming that such alliances could be formed if “meaningful progress can be made” in the peace process between Israel and the PA.
Whether or not these alliances come to be formed, “The United States will always have Israel's back,” Biden stressed.
“No administration has done more to advance the security of Israel than we have,” he added, saying he was “incredibly proud” of the security cooperation between the two countries.
“We'll make sure Israel has the best equipment available,” said Biden. “We'll continue to make sure Israel has the capacity to defend itself by itself in an incredibly dangerous neighborhood.”
“Israel is stronger and more secure today because of the Obama-Biden administration. Period. Not in spite of it, but because of it,” he insisted.
He blasted the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as the attempts to delegitimize Israel in the UN.
“We'll continue to stand against the biased resolutions and attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. We'll continue to push against the calls here in the United States to boycott, disinvest or sanction Israel. It's wrong,” he declared.