In his speech at Tel Aviv University yesterday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden outlined the American approach to the Middle East in its broadest sense, from the Israeli-Arab conflict to the Persian Gulf.
This is President Barack Obama's line, and Biden made sure to mention that it was the president who instructed him to denounce the decision to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Ramat Shlomo. Even if a Republican takes over the White House after Obama, this basic line is not expected to change.
The American administration's position is territories in exchange for peace, peace to ensure security and security to ensure the region's stability and foil the Iranian nuclearization, which constitutes a "strategic threat to Israel's survival." The position also supports a Jewish, democratic Israel alongside a Palestinian state, with the Green Line as its border, minus agreed territory exchanges.
This means that if Israel wants to keep neighborhoods and settlements in exchange for other territory, Washington will understand, but on condition that the Palestinians agree to the deal.
Biden pointed out the self-evident: To reach a deal, the sides must negotiate directly with each other. And if the corridor to the direct talks is indirect talks, as the Palestinian leaders demand, then this is the way it must be done. For Israel will not find better Palestinian leaders than Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. Thus the key is to eliminate reasons and excuses for avoiding indirect talks that lead to direct talks. One of these is the Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, whether in West Bank settlements or East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express regret over the announcement of the building plans in Ramat Shlomo enabled Obama and Biden to tie Netanyahu's hands. They leave him no option of implementing the declarative decisions.
This week the Obama administration showed Netanyahu a yellow card. Next time, if Netanyahu takes that risk, whether with ill-intent or because one of his 30 ministers, a mayor or some clerk forgets to coordinate with him - the White House will brandish a red card.
Biden also trapped Netanyahu by bringing up the latter's agreement to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as he stated in his Bar-Ilan University speech. Netanyahu listed reservations in that address. Biden ignored them - as a way of telling Netanyahu he must choose between siding with the international community in general and the Obama administration in particular, or surrendering to the right wing within and outside Likud. Biden indicated that Israel has a right to define and prioritize its interests as it sees fit, but Israeli-Arab peace is also an American interest.
Netanyahu focused on Iran as his main source of concern. Biden, speaking for Obama, explained to the Israeli public the importance of preventing a rift between Jerusalem and Washington. This is another reason the status quo with the Palestinians "is unsustainable," as Biden put it.
This was a support speech by an old friend, with whom the Israeli public can identify. Israel's leaders should respond to his call.
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