Joe Biden: Then and Now

When asked about President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Joe Biden has said, “I wouldn’t reverse it. I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.” A spokesperson told Axios, “Vice President Biden would not move the American embassy back to Tel Aviv. But he would re-open our consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians.” Biden has also called for “sustaining our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security regardless of how much you may disagree with this present leader. It is essential.”

Biden has also noted that he has spent 35 years dealing with issues relating to Israel. Hence, it is possible to find quite a bit on the record about his views. I stumbled on remarks that he made during a Senate hearing in 1984 regarding the idea of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which are interesting given his statements on the campaign trail. They also offer some insight into his commitment to Israel.

“Mister secretary [Lawrence Eagleburger], some of us might argue that U.S. interest in bringing about a final peace might very well be enhanced by making it clear to the parties in the region exactly where we stood on issues like this [moving the Embassy]….I happen to support this move, although I would acknowledge with you that, from my perspective, as a supporter of Israel, I think it is the wrong fight to make it this time. I don’t see that it is that big a deal. I think there are other things much more important in the relationship that have to be cured before that. But, the fact is it has been engaged. It seems to me that the wisest policy the administration could adopt would be to just go ahead and do it….

I see this as a no-win situation from this point on. The longer this issue is debated, the longer we go on with this issue, the more exacerbated the problem will be for whatever the losing position is. If it is moved to Jerusalem, then we will have made a big deal out of something that need not be made is bigger deal out of. …I don’t know why we just don’t simply move it to the western sector of Jerusalem and be done with it. Just do it and make no big deal.

If the Arabs can sustain and understand and swallow our policy in Lebanon, they can take about anything….

If I had been asked, I may have suggested whether or not this is the issue we should be debating now. I may very well have said no, there are other things I would rather put on the front burner, such as trying to convince you all to pass my amendment to see to it that Israel does not have to pay back more than it is receiving in economic aid – things like that….

It seems to me that we have stated that we really do not want a divided Jerusalem again….I would think if we did away with the fiction of saying that consistent with the statement that the President made that, first, we do not see it divided and, second that it’s status is negotiable, we can also say our movement of the Embassy to West Jerusalem, where the Israelis have been for a long time, is not a recognition of anything other than the reality of where the Israeli government is now. And, if and when it is negotiated that it is not there, then we would move….

I really believe that you fail to understand the depth of the feeling of insecurity that the Israelis have about their future and their relationship, even with this government, has the consequence of moving Israeli governments, whether they be Labor or Likud, in directions that are independent of, and sometimes it could be argued at odds with, U.S. policy. I think the most important thing that could be done to pursue the peace process is for us to be unequivocal and clear that we want to be friends with everybody in the region pure, but it should be perfectly clear that there are no equal relationships. Israel is the first among friends. It is clear it is a fact of life. We want you all to be friends with us, too, but understand where we stand. And here we stand – period.

Once that occurs, including the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem, I think you will find that people who believe that they can continue to drive wedges between the United States and Israel for their own benefit would diminish in number. I honestly believe that would speed up the peace process and not slow it up.

Last, you made a point about the need for direct involvement of the United States in the process. I could not agree with you more. I would argue that not only have we been successful in the past on occasion, we have only been successful when we have been very specific. …

I would argue that the more the United States is directly involved, and makes clear what the realities of life are there, instead of continuing to play with the fiction that somehow Jerusalem, as long as Israel exists, is not going to be under the practical control of the Israelis. We should not keep alive notions that they’re not come to fruition.”

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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