Visiting Biden savours Israel ‘homecoming’

July 14, 2022 by AAP
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Israel embraced has US President Joe Biden as an old friend at the start of a high-stakes visit dominated by efforts to bring Israel closer to Saudi Arabia and persuade Gulf allies of the United States to pump more oil.

Yair Lapid, President Joe Biden, and President Herzog

Landing at Ben Gurion Airport, whose runway he first trod in 1973 as a senator, Biden bumped fists with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and, in a speech, described the connection between the two countries as “bone-deep”.

“You do not need to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” Biden added, voicing support for the ideology behind Israel’s foundation on lands with ancient Jewish roots, and which is deeply resented by many Palestinians.

Biden also reiterated a US desire for negotiations, stalled since 2014, for Palestinian independence in Israeli-occupied territory, calling this two-state solution “the best hope”.

After separate meetings with leaders of both sides, Biden will on Friday fly on to Saudi Arabia, where he will attend a summit of Gulf allies.

Under pressure at home to bring down soaring petrol prices that have damaged his approval ratings, he is expected to press for expanded oil production.

Biden’s first trip as president to Israel – which, in a TV interview, he described as “kind of like going home” – is his 10th of a long political career.

Biden entered the White House 18 months ago.

In a welcoming speech, Lapid called Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known”.

But Israel and the United States have at times been divided over Iranian nuclear diplomacy and Palestinian statehood prospects.

Biden’s trip could produce more steps toward normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, historical adversaries but also two powerful US allies with shared concerns about Iran.

Forging Israel-Saudi relations is “going to take a long time,” Biden told Israel’s Channel 12 TV.

“But increasing the relationship in terms of the acceptance of each others’ presence, the working together on certain things – it all makes sense to me.”

He added that enhancing Israelis’ integration in the region makes it “more likely there is going to be a means by which they can eventually come to an accommodation with the Palestinians”.

A centrepiece of Biden’s visit will be talks in Jeddah with Saudi leaders including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accused by the US intelligence community of being behind the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting is a reversal of Biden’s previous position of making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over Khashoggi’s death.

How the White House handles the optics of the meeting and whether photos will be released of it will be closely watched.

Aides say he will bring up human rights concerns while in Saudi Arabia but he has nonetheless drawn fire from a wide array of critics.

“Biden needs the Saudis to increase their oil production to help keep global energy prices in check,” Washington Post publisher Fred R yan wrote in an opinion piece.

“The trip sends the message that the United States is willing to look the other way when its commercial interests are at stake.”‘

AAP report

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