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Middle East
US reassures Israel over security
US vice-president holds talks with Israel PM on Iranian threat and Palestinian peace.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2010 20:36 GMT
Biden has met Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, as
part of his five-day Middle East visit [AFP]

Joe Biden, the US vice-president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, have held talks over the perceived threat posed by Iran and on reviving the Middle East peace process.

After the meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Biden reassured Israel that the US stood alongside them in terms of security.

"Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows that there is simply no space between the United States and Israel," he said.

"The is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security. And for that reason, and many others, addressing Iran's nuclear programme has been one of our administration's priorities."

Netanyahu thanked the US administration for attempting to limit Iran's nuclear programme, which they claim is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, contrary to Iran's pronouncements that it is solely for civilian purposes, via sanctions.

Iran priority

He also reaffirmed that one of Israel's security priorities is to ensure that Iran does not build a nuclear arsenal.

"The is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security. And for that reason, and many others, addressing Iran's nuclear programme has been one of our administration's priorities"

Joe Biden,
US vice-president

"The Iranian regime will have to chose between advancing its nuclear programme and advancing the future of its own permanence," Netanyahu said.

Shadi Hamid, the deputy director of the Brookings Institute, told Al Jazeera that the point of Biden's visit was to show Washington's commitment to Israel's security and resistance to Tehran's nuclear programme.

"That was something that Netanyahu and the Israeli public really wanted to hear from Biden in unequivocal terms. And Biden succeeded in getting across that message," Hamid said.

Hamid said that the talks should calm recent Israeli portentousness concerning Iran.

"It would be very difficult now for Israel to talk about a pre-emptive strike so soon after Biden's visit. There would be quite a bit of dissonance there if Israel did that."

Palestinian perspective

Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician and activist, also said she believed the meetings with Israeli officials was more about discussing policy toward Iran, rather than peace with Palestinians.

"The peace effort seems to me is not a primary issue on the agenda", she told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

However, in a as far as the Palestinian situation was going to be discussed, Ashrawi said: "The real issue is whether the US is willing to take serious steps, whether it is going to curb Israeli behaviour or continue to give Israel a pat on the back instead of a slap on the wrist.

"In order to ensure that settlement activity stop, the annexation and transformation of Jerusalem stops ... it is not a question of negotiation per se. It is a question of substance and the ability to influence realities on the ground."

But Biden said he had called for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the US will stand by those who will "take risks for peace".

"The goal is obviously to resolve the final status issues and achieve a two-state solution," he said.

Indirect talks

He said that he welcomed the move this week by Netanyahu to start US-mediated indirect talks with the Palestinians and that he hoped that it would lead to direct dialogue.

Netanyahu said that establishing peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbours was another top security priority for Israel.

Israel plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes
in East Jerusalem [GALLO/GETTY]

The Palestinians have said they will not resume peace talks until Israel ends its settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

But on the eve of Biden's visit, plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem were announced.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said the prime minister did not know about the announcement.

But Biden condemned the plan to build more illegal settlements, saying the decision "undermines the trust we need right now".

"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units", he said.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Jerusalem, said the decision to push through with the latest construction despite Biden's visit came from the ministry for the interior.

"The interior ministry is currently held by the religious Shas party, a right-wing party that isn't particularly inclined to talk about settlement freezing.

"One could interpret it as an effort of the right-wing in Netanyahu's coalition government  to really throw a spanner in the works, to embarrass Netanyahu, to insult the American vice-president and to further throw the Palestinians into dismay and disgruntlement.

"If in fact prime minister Netanyahu didn't know anything about this announcement, it really would suggest that there isn't much communication at all inside his government."

Five-day tour

Biden, who is not expected to take part in any indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks, was on the second day of a five-day tour of the Middle East.

Earlier on Tuesday he met Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, and is due to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Wednesday.

Biden's visit coincides with that of George Mitchell, Washington's special envoy to the Middle East, who is spearheading efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back on the negotiating table.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Gaza Strip in December 2008, despite US efforts to relaunch the peace process.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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