Document contains MOU security assistance commitments

Signing ‘Jerusalem Declaration,’ Biden vows to use all US power to stop nuclear Iran

Washington, Jerusalem commit to continue to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations, but only Washington ‘affirms longstanding and consistent support of a two-state solution’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US President Joe Biden (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid, sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid, sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint strategic declaration on Thursday in Jerusalem, in which the US vowed to use “all elements in its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,” reads the text of the statement, officially known as the Jerusalem US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration.

“The United States further affirms the commitment to work together with other partners to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilizing activities, whether advanced directly or through proxies and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the communique stated.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two countries “commit to continuing to discuss the challenges and opportunities in Israeli-Palestinian relations,” and condemn Hamas and recent terrorist attacks.

However, notably only Biden “affirms his longstanding and consistent support of a two-state solution and for advancing toward a reality in which Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of security, freedom and prosperity.”

“The United States stands ready to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and regional stakeholders toward that goal,” the declaration read.

US President Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the media following their meeting in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While Lapid himself supports the two-state framework, he heads a caretaker government that includes right-wing parties opposed to Palestinian statehood. Accordingly, he had avoided voicing his support for the proposal since taking office.

But during the Q&A session after their prepared remarks, the Israeli premier was put on the spot for his opinion on the matter. He responded that he still does support the two-state solution, but avoided answering a question as to whether he would advance the initiative if he continues in the post after the November election.

Still, both sides committed to strengthening the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life of Palestinians. Biden is set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

Contrary to his predecessors, Biden is seen to have largely deprioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on his foreign policy agenda due to a belief that the parties are not ready for high-stakes peace talks.

The Jerusalem Declaration signed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and US President Joe Biden at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Courtesy)

The president expressed his support for a two-state solution in his speech upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday at the start of his four-day trip to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. However, he added, “I know it’s not [feasible] in the near term.”

The declaration reaffirms “the unbreakable bonds between our two countries and the enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.” Biden made similar comments after his earlier meeting with Lapid.

The US also declared that its commitments to Israel are “bipartisan and sacrosanct,” adding that they are also of great importance to US security.

The declaration contains a US commitment to fully implement the terms of the historic $38 billion memorandum of understanding, and a recognition that a follow-on MOU should reflect new threats and circumstances.

“Israel appreciates the US commitment to the MOU and for providing an additional $1 billion over MOU levels in supplemental missile defense funding following the 2021 conflict,” the declaration read, referring to last year’s conflict with Gaza terror groups.

The two sides also vowed cooperation in “cutting-edge defense technologies such as high energy laser weapons systems to defend the skies of Israel and in the future those of other US and Israel security partners.”

Shortly after his arrival in Israel, Biden toured a Defense Ministry display of Israel’s multi-tier air defense systems, including an in-development high-powered laser interception system dubbed Iron Beam.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, presents US President Joe Biden with the wing of a drone intercepted by the Iron Beam laser defense system, as Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L) looks on at the Ben Gurion Airport, July 13, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The $38 billion MOU for security assistance was signed in 2016 under the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. The 10-year agreement went into effect two years later, so it is not even halfway through its duration, but such MOUs take time to negotiate and so are planned years in advance.

On the Abraham Accords, the statement affirms the importance of the agreements, and of the Negev Forum that was initiated in Manama in June.

The Abraham Accords, a joint peace declaration initially signed on September 15, 2020, officially normalized diplomatic relations between Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. In December 2020, Morocco and Israel inked a normalization agreement, establishing full diplomatic relations. Then, in January 2021, Sudan signed on to the accords, symbolically declaring its intention to advance normalization with Israel.

Biden and Lapid found common language in the declaration on the Russia-Ukraine war, which Israel has been far less strident about than the US in its condemnations of Moscow. Israel has also declined to join Western sanctions against Russia and has not sent the offensive aid requested by Kyiv.

“The United States and Israel reiterate their concerns regarding the ongoing attacks against Ukraine, their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and affirmed the importance of continued humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine,” reads the declaration.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, firefighters work to extinguish fire at a building damaged by shelling, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, July 14, 2022. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

On Israel’s seemingly stalled attempts to join the Visa Waiver Program, both sides agreed to accelerate attempts to complete the process.

The statement also included a firm denunciation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, and efforts to unfairly single out Israel in the United Nations or the International Criminal Court.

“The two countries will use the tools at their disposal to fight every scourge and source of antisemitism and to respond whenever legitimate criticism crosses over into bigotry and hatred or attempts to undermine Israel’s rightful and legitimate place among the family of nations,” the declaration read.

In the declaration, Biden and Lapid also expressed their appreciation for Lapid’s predecessor, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “who led the most diverse government in Israel’s history, and under whose leadership this extraordinary partnership has continued to grow stronger.”

“The United States and Israel affirm that among the values the countries share is an unwavering commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the calling of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ repairing the world,” read the declaration, invoking the Jewish doctrine.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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