U.S. Vice President Joe Biden kicked off his first official Middle East tour promoting a new Arab state within Israel’s current borders by assuring President Shimon Peres, "There is absolutely no space between the United States and Israel in terms of Israel's security, our mutual security -- none at all.”
However, President Peres expressed concern over the lack of specific American action. "We have trust in President [Barack] Obama,” he said but asked that he "surround Iran with an envelope" to help stop the Iranian nuclear threat. "Nobody knows exactly what they are doing," Peres said.
Biden insisted, "Since our administration came to power, I would point out that Iran is more isolated -- internally, externally -- has fewer friends in the world.”
While the vice president played up the Iran angle for Israel, the main purpose of his trip is to advance the PA plan to become a country. "I think we are at a moment of real opportunity," Biden said at a meeting with President Peres on the day before his scheduled meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Both Israel and the PA have agreed to indirect talks, similar to those mediated by the United States 16 years ago.
However, the PA leadership was divided even on the agreement for indirect talks, and there is almost universal pessimism over the prospects for President Obama’s new diplomatic initiative. “The mutual goal in the latest round of talks is to avoid being blamed for their failure,” TIME magazine’s Tony Karon wrote.
The Arab world has given U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell only four months to meet its demands for a new PA state that includes all of eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. PA officials said Monday they would agree to land swaps on condition that the size of the PA does not shrink.
Karon explained, “Setting conditions and deadlines is a way for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to offset the domestic political damage he suffers from participating in endless rounds of fruitless negotiations.
“Last Friday's confrontations between Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinian youths in Jerusalem may be a portent that the latest round of peace talks could, in fact, be starting under the cloud of a looming Intifada.”