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Candidate Biden: U.S., Israel Joined at the Hip
"A strong America is a strong Israel," said Biden. "I have a 35-year record of supporting Israel, and Israel's security is enhanced the stronger America is. And right now around the world we're not [respected]."
Biden said that, if he and Barack Obama were elected, their administration's first step in advancing the Israeli peace process would be to "regain the respect of the world -- so the rest of the world follows us in defending Israel."
He had harsh words for President George W. Bush and his policies toward the Middle East. "This administration has been a disaster for Israel," he said. "Their heart's been in the right place, but their judgment's been abysmal. I argued against the elections being held for the Palestinian parliament. Who insisted on it? George W. Bush. I predicted that Hamas would win, and they won. Now we've taken a terrorist organization and legitimized it in the eyes of the world -- and why? Because they won an election. It's been a disastrous policy for Israel."
He said that a lack of support for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had left Fatah without any legitimate way to lure its constituency back from Hamas and get the peace process moving again.
Regarding a possible Israeli strike on Iran, Biden said, "You can't tell Israel not to launch a pre-emptive strike. You can't tell Israel what's in their own interest."
He said current policies had put Israel in a position where it had no other option but to consider attacking Iran, though he admitted that the United States had finally begun to make progress with Iran when the Bush administration recently dispatched Undersecretary of State William Burns to Iran to initiate talks.
"There is a myth going around that somehow the Bush policies strengthened Israel," he said. "I ask you -- rhetorical question -- 'Is Israel more secure today than it was eight years ago, seven years ago?' I don't think so. Because we've made very bad policy decisions in terms of Israel's interest.
"We need a policy that's not only born out of a desire to help Israel," he noted, "but is also smart enough to help Israel, so Israel's only choice isn't war or capitulation."
As Israel and the United States face leadership changes, Biden said that a new U.S. administration would respect the autonomy of Israel and allow it to make its own decisions.
"I've been around a long, long time," he said. "I'm tired of people in America telling the Israeli government what's in their interest. They know their interest; we should support them. We should be a catalyst."
He called Israel "an incredibly valued ally in the most unstable part of the world," and said its independence and security were of the utmost importance to the United States.
"We don't want to have any enemies with the Arab states; we will treat them fairly, and we will do what we can to be a fair agent of change. But the idea that we are 'evenhanded' -- meaning that we make no distinction between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Israel -- is simply not the case. Israel is our ally. If Israel did not exist, we'd have to invent it for our own national security."
Earlier in the week, Biden participated in a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media, and the senator ignited a minor media firestorm regarding the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he said "does not speak for the entire American Jewish community," adding that there are other organizations just as strong and as consequential.
He said that AIPAC "does not speak for the state of Israel, no matter what it insists on on occasion," but stressed that while he has had disagreements with the group in the past, they were always tactical, not objective or substantive disagreements.
The senator's words came as the Republican Jewish Coalition has been distributing press releases that point out those times when Biden has diverged on issues from the influential lobbying group.
"I will take a back seat to no one -- let me say it again, no one -- in AIPAC or any other organization, in terms of questioning my support for the state of Israel."
AIPAC subsequently released a statement in support of the senator, calling him a strong backer of U.S.-Israeli ties, and a "leader in the fight against Palestinian terrorism." The statement said the group looked forward to continuing to work with Biden, whether in the Senate or the White House.