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In back-handed compliment, Biden praises Trump for Israel-UAE deal

Democratic presidential nominee says White House may ‘accidentally do something positive’ in pushing Israel-Arab ties; lashes leadership in both Jerusalem and Ramallah

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: Vice President Joe Biden addresses the J Street gala on April 19, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative: Vice President Joe Biden addresses the J Street gala on April 19, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden railed against US President Donald Trump’s record in the Middle East during a Thursday campaign event, but acknowledged that the administration’s brokering of a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was a positive development.

“I think Trump is going to accidentally do something positive here, in terms of this issue of… other Arab states” acknowledging Israel, Biden said during a virtual fundraiser organized by the liberal, pro-Israel lobby J Street. The Times of Israel received a recording from the private event.

Biden said conditioning the normalization agreement on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to shelve plans to annex parts of the West Bank was “not a bad thing either.”

“Even our brethren in the Arab world… have come to realize that it is in their interest that there be a two-state solution [and] that Israel is able to live in peace and be recognized,” he added.

Biden said he was glad annexation was off the table for now, but acknowledged that Netanyahu could move forward with the plan in the future.

“I don’t know how much is off the table in terms of Bibi’s notions. But he knows and the Israelis know my position,” Biden said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

He highlighted his longstanding relationship with Netanyahu, but did not shy away from sharply criticizing the premier.

At the same time, Biden said responsibility for the conflict’s stalemate lies with the Palestinians as well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with United States Vice President Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016, during Biden’s official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

“[Netanyahu] has undermined the stability of self-determination for the Palestinians, undercutting hope for a viable two-state solution any chance that he gets,” he said.

“Not only do I think Netanyahu’s position is wrong, and that he’s yielding to the far-right of his party to maintain support, but the Palestinian leadership has not stepped up when given real opportunity,” Biden said.

Further criticizing the Palestinian Authority, the Democratic presidential nominee said “they have to be prepared to stop what’s going on in terms of their education system, railing against Israel in their schools. They’ve got to stop inciting violence and supporting it when it happens.”

He then pivoted to assert the importance of US economic support for Ramallah, saying the Trump administration’s dismissal of the “basic fundamental economic needs of the Palestinian people only makes [them] more susceptible” to supporting those who don’t believe in a two-state solution.

The Trump administration has been widely criticized for cutting hundreds of million of dollars in financial aid to the PA after relations between Ramallah and Washington soured over the White House’s December 6, 2017, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Illustrative: US Vice President Joe Biden (2L), his wife Jill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) and his wife Sara (R) attend a dinner at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on March 09, 2010. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Biden on Thursday reiterated his pledge to restore aid to the PA “consistent with US law,” in what appeared to be a reference to the Taylor Force Act, which slashes US funding to the Palestinians as long as the PA continues payments to the families of security prisoners, including terrorists.

Biden also vowed to reopen the US consulate in Palestinian East Jerusalem, which the Trump administration shuttered after it moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

J Street announced it would back Biden last April in what was its first-ever presidential endorsement. The dovish group, founded in 2007, did not endorse the more moderate Hillary Clinton in 2016, but campaigned aggressively against Trump in that election and ever since.

J Street said in a statement that it has raised more than $2 million in member contributions to the Biden campaign.

The former vice president appeared to return the favor, reiterating many of the group’s talking points against annexation and settlement expansion and in favor of a two-state solution and restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew from under the Trump administration.

“When we withdrew from the agreement, President Trump promised a better deal, which has never materialized… Now, Iran is closer to a weapon than they were when we left office in 2017,” Biden told the group. “And instead of Iran being isolated, we are the ones who are being isolated. America is isolated.”

“Trump’s put Israel in danger by tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, and replaced it with nothing,” he added.

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