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President Biden forcefully articulated a defense of Israel on Friday evening, even as more progressive members of his party have sought to cut military aid to the country amid a renewed cycle of violence.
“There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel. Period. No shift, not at all,” Biden said during a press conference with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who was in Washington to discuss the fraught situation on the Korean Peninsula.
“We still need a two-state solution,” Biden added. “It is the only answer. The only answer.”
That statement put him at odds with progressives who argue that Arabs and Jews should live in a single nation. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the only Palestinian member of Congress, favors that approach. She and Biden spoke earlier this week on an airport tarmac when he arrived in Michigan for an event concerning vehicle electrification.
Even as the two leaders discussed how to contain the threat of a nuclear North Korea, Biden faced questions about the just concluded hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza.
Biden had hoped to avoid the trap into which previous presidents had fallen by promising a once-and-for-all solution to the conflict between Israel, a Jewish-majority state, and its Arab neighbors. But that became impossible earlier this month after confrontations between Arabs and Israelis in East Jerusalem turned violent.
Israel had been locked in nearly two weeks of fighting with Hamas, a group that has sought political legitimacy in recent years but is also willing to use violence, including launching rockets into Israel.
Israel, meanwhile, conducted a relentless aerial assault of the Gaza Strip, killing some 230 Palestinians. The goal of the Israeli strikes was to destroy tunnels Hamas uses to move fighters and military equipment, but those strikes were widely condemned for killing civilians and worsening an already dire humanitarian situation.
A former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has been privy to decades of Middle Eastern conflict, Biden holds views on Israel that are in keeping with those of the Washington establishment. Those views, however, are not shared by many progressives, some of whom have made an explicit link to the Palestinian struggle for statehood to the domestic push for racial justice.
On Friday, Biden made clear that he is unmoved by the arguments of the left, even as his administration had adopted and incorporated progressive ideas in other areas of governing. Support for Israel, he seemed to say, was sacrosanct.
“My party still supports Israel,” Biden asserted on Friday evening, arguing that it was Arab states’ denial of legitimacy to Israel that has led to violent clashes like the one with Hamas.
“Until the region says unequivocally that they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state,” the president said, “there will be no peace.”
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