U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pressed Israel on Tuesday to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an address to the leading pro-Israel lobby during its annual conference in Washington.
"Israel has to work for a two state-solution. You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement ... and access to economic opportunity," Biden told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Biden also said the Palestinian Authority "must combat terror and incitement against Israel."
The vice president reiterated U.S. commitment to Israel's security, saying: "With all the change you will hear about, there is one enduring, essential principle that will not change; and that is our commitment to the peace and security of the state of Israel."
"That is not negotiable. That is not a matter of change. That is something to be reinforced and made clear. It seems almost unnecessary to state it, but I want the word to go forth in here that no one should mistake it."
Biden's comments came ahead of a meeting between President Shimon Peres and President Barack Obama later on Tuesday and less than two weeks before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House.
As Netanyahu's visit to Washington on May 17 approaches, the United States has been sending strong messages on the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israeli settlement activity.
In a speech to the AIPAC on Monday, Netanyahu said he was ready to begin Israeli-Palestinian peace talks immediately but he made no reference to a Palestinian state.
General James Jones, national security adviser to Obama, told a European foreign minister a week ago that unlike the Bush administration, Obama will be "forceful" with Israel.
Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told AIPAC delegates on Monday night that two states for two peoples is the only solution the United States is committed to.
"Relations between Israel and the U.S. are unbreakable," Emanuel said before a gathering of 350 AIPAC donors, adding that "this is the moment of truth for Israel and the Palestinians."
He also declared that "Iran is the number-one threat to the Middle East," and noted that it is hard to make progress wherever Tehran is involved in the Middle East.
Emanuel called for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation if Iran is to be countered effectively.
He said the United States was trying to enter a dialogue with countries such as Syria and Iran, even though it was still unclear whether these countries would alter their behavior. He reiterated that the United States wants to talk with Iran in the hope that Tehran will relinquish its efforts to gain nuclear weapons.
Jones is the main force in the Obama administration stressing the Palestinian question and believes that the United States must become more intensively involved in the matter vis-a-vis both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Several days ago, a classified telegram was received in Jerusalem discussing a meeting between Jones and a European foreign minister. Jones told his European interlocutor that President George W. Bush had avoided actions on the Palestinian question that Israel opposed, but the Obama administration intended to change this practice and become more active. It would not make concessions on matters that Israel had committed to.
"The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question," Jones said. "We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush."
Jones is quoted in the telegram as saying that the United States, European Union and moderate Arab states must redefine "a satisfactory endgame solution."
The U.S. national security adviser did not mention Israel as party to these consultations.
In the face of the strongly worded American signals, Netanyahu reiterated on Monday to the Knesset that "recognition of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is the necessary basis for genuine peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors."
In the upcoming days Uzi Arad, Netanyahu's national security adviser, will travel to London for a meeting with his American counterpart to discuss the meeting between the prime minister and Obama on May 18.
President Shimon Peres also addressed the AIPAC conference on Monday, and complimented the new U.S. president. He described Obama's election as having "engulfed the world with a huge wave of hope."
"President Barack Obama was elected at a time of difficult crises around the world," Peres said. "I am convinced that he has the abilities to transform these crises into opportunities."
Peres also said that "Israel is extending its arms with open hands for peace with all peoples, with all Arab states, with all the Arab peoples. To those who still stand with clenched fists I have only one word: enough. No more war. No more destruction. No more hate. Now is the time for change. The definition of success according to Israel is not by wars that were imposed on us and which we won, but by the peace we gained with some of our neighbors."
Peres' speech drew criticism from the main opposition party, Kadima, which accused the president of becoming a public relations agent for Netanyahu.
"Instead of being president of Israel he became president of the government," a source in Kadima said.
Former finance minister Roni Bar-On described Peres as a defense attorney for Netanyahu who was sent to the United States "to ease the hearing that will be held on May 18" before Obama.
Meanwhile, some observers in the United States have expressed concerns that the differences between Israel and the new U.S. administration are leading to a clash.
Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he is concerned by the disagreements between Israel and the United States regarding Iran.
"If there is no complete agreement on all the details in dealing with this issue, there is a chance for the most serious dispute between the U.S. and Israel in the entire 61 years of relations between the two," Satloff said.
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