WASHINGTON (JTA) — Joe Biden said Tuesday that the US should press Israel not to take any actions that jeopardize a two-state solution, a reference to Israeli signals that it may try to annex part of the West Bank.
The US Democratic presidential candidate, in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, also said that as president he would resume US assistance to the Palestinians, reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem that administers primarily to the Palestinians and would seek to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington.
“A priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible,” Biden said. “I will reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem, find a way to reopen the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington, and resume the decades-long economic and security assistance efforts to the Palestinians that the Trump Administration stopped.”
The deal under which the new Israeli “unity” coalition government is set to be formed provides for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move ahead with his declared intention to extend Israeli sovereignty to all settlements and other parts of the West Bank from July 1. As Biden has secured the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he has come under pressure from the Democratic Party’s left to speak out against any such move, which would be seen as highly controversial in the international community.
The peace plan unveiled earlier this year by US President Donald Trump embraces Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, including the settlements and the Jordan Valley, as long as Israel works within the framework of the plan.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview published Wednesday that Washington is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the disputed areas should it be declared in the coming weeks: “When the mapping process is over, when the Israeli government agrees to freeze building in the same parts of Area C that aren’t designated for the application of sovereignty and when the prime minister agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan — and he already agreed to this on the first day — we’ll recognize Israel’s sovereignty in areas that according to the plan will be a part of it,” he said.
Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser said last week that the presidential candidate opposes unilateral annexation. Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Tony Blinken said Biden had been “on the record several times [that] unilateral steps taken by either side that make the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome less likely is something he opposes, and that includes annexation.”
A letter this week from 30 former top national security officials in Democratic administrations expressed alarm at the prospect of annexation, and urged Biden to include in this year’s Democratic Party opposition to Israel’s military rule over the West Bank and to settlement expansion. That would be a notable change — Democratic platforms have until now not criticized the military rule.
“Past party platforms have rightly stated a commitment to Israel’s security and included condemnations of threats and actions against our ally, in addition to embracing a two-state outcome,” said the letter, organized by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. “Those platforms have, however, also been nearly silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution, and on the need for security for both peoples.”
Biden has also enthusiastically accepted J Street’s endorsement for the presidency.
Tensions between those in the party who, like Biden, are close to the mainstream pro-Israel lobby, and those influenced by J Street are likely to continue. The lobby is urging Democratic senators to sign a letter initiated by senators Tim Kaine of Virginia, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Chris Murphy of Connecticut that would warn Israel’s government not to move ahead with annexation. All three are J Street endorses.
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who is close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said this week in a conference call organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America that he is disinclined to add his name to the letter.
Biden’s statement was part of a series of replies to JTA on the presidential candidate’s Middle East policy. Biden has said in the past it is also incumbent on the Palestinians to preserve two-state options. A campaign spokesman noted to JTA Biden’s past calls on both sides to refrain from unilateralism.
“Palestinian leaders should end the incitement and glorification of violence, and they must begin to level with their people about the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations last August. “Israeli leaders should stop the expansion of West Bank settlements and talk of annexation that would make two states impossible to achieve.”
The statement from Tuesday also takes a cudgel to the Trump administration’s peace plan, which sanctions annexation under certain conditions. It is Biden’s most robust criticism of the recent policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned in the most recent elections on a pledge to move toward annexation.
Biden has separately said he would not reverse Trump’s decision in 2018 to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians pulled out of the Trump peace process in December 2017, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump subsequently cut off virtually all assistance to the Palestinians, closed the PLO office in Washington, and rolled the East Jerusalem consulate’s responsibilities into the Israeli embassy, seen as a downgrading of US-Palestinian relations.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.