US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday asserted that Israel would not be able to stem the months-long upsurge in Palestinian violence and terrorism with military force, during a visit with Israel’s president.
“The violence has to stop, period… It cannot and will not be done just by physical force,” Biden said in Jerusalem at a joint press conference with President Reuven Rivlin. “Israelis and visitors to Israel cannot go on being afraid to go about their lives for fear of being attacked.”
The statement seemed to signal support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, although the US has made clear that Biden was not using his visit to try to jumpstart a new peace push.
Biden met with Rivlin after holding a long meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, described by an Israeli official as “friendly, cordial and warm.”
Netanyahu and Biden and their respective aides talked about various topics, including the Islamic State and Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, weapons smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, efforts to reach a détente with Turkey, the construction of a regional natural gas pipeline, security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and ongoing Palestinian incitement, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
During the meeting, Netanyahu also showed Biden a clip with examples of Palestinian incitement, following a press conference in which Biden appeared to criticize Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not condemning terror. Netanyahu mentioned to Biden that the PA’s Facebook site praises yesterday’s terror attacks, in which a US citizens was killed.
Three separate terror attacks took place as Biden arrived in Israel on Tuesday, including a stabbing spree on Tel Aviv’s waterfront by a Palestinian who killed American tourist Taylor Force and wounded 10 others, while Biden and his family were nearby.
“The United States of America resoundingly condemns the terrorist violence we have seen lately including yesterday…Our hearts go out to those who have suffered and their families,” Biden said.
Underlining the US desire for progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Biden warned against delaying bi-lateral talks.
“The reason why we have to deal with this plague of terrorism is it will have the tendency to harden hearts – not be willing to reach out, not be willing to reach compromise,” he said.
France is currently in the midst of trying to set up a multilateral conference aimed at getting talks off the ground, but Rivlin urged the US to take a leading role in regional peace initiatives during his comments alongside Biden.
“The whole region needs a clear message from the United States of America. Terror and hatred drive people apart. The only way forward, is to build trust. Peace cannot be imposed, it must be reached,” the president said.
Rivlin’s statement came at the same time as in Cairo French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault walked back a threat by his predecessor that Paris would recognize a Palestinian state if the peace confab fails, addressing a major Israeli complaint.
Israel and the US have not officially said if they will support the French effort.
Rivlin thanked Biden for the “strong and sincere” American support for Israel during the ongoing wave of terrorism, and said the violence would not break the country’s spirit and dedication to democracy.
“Israel is a strong democracy; stronger than ever. However when the region suffers from uncertainty and instability, Israel’s burden of security is heavy; perhaps heavier than ever,” the president said.
“Israel has faced this kind of terror nearly every day over the past year. Israel will continue to stand firm in the face of this violence and hatred. Terror will not break us, and it will not shape our future.”
After visiting Rivlin, Biden made an unannounced stop along with three of his grandchildren and his daughter-in-law at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, under heavy security.
The church is built at the site revered as the location of Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb.
Earlier on Wednesday, Biden implicitly condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not condemning Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis.
“Let me say in no uncertain terms: The United States of America condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts. This cannot become an accepted modus operandi,” Biden said during a press conference alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Biden is scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah later on Wednesday.
Ahead of the Ramallah talks, senior Palestinian official Ahmed Majdalani said he was expecting “nothing” from Biden’s visit.
“Mr. Biden is only coming to the region in the context of his plans regarding the fight against terrorism in Syria, not for us,” he told AFP, referring to talks between Biden and Netanyahu on the Islamic State jihadist group.
Biden’s comments, delivered in Jerusalem, came shortly after Netanyahu said that Abbas’s political group had not only failed to condemn, but had in fact praised the Palestinian terrorist who killed Force.
“This cannot be viewed by civilized leaders as an appropriate way in which to behave,” Biden said. “It is just not tolerable in the 21st century. They’re targeting innocent civilians, mothers, pregnant women, teenagers, grandfathers, American citizens. There can be no justification for this hateful violence and the United States stands firmly behind Israel when it defends itself as we are defending ourselves at this moment as well.”
Biden’s brief trip to Israel will focus on US economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria, the White House said ahead of his arrival.
Central to the discussions are expected to be the finalizing of a new 10-year defense aid package, which Israeli officials are looking to boost beyond the $3.1 billion it currently receives annually.
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.