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      Knesset Speaker 'Very Worried' by Applause for Biden

      Video: Audience at Tel Aviv University applauded, cheered when Vice President Biden mentioned his condemnation of construction in Jerusalem.
      By Gil Ronen and Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 3/11/2010, 12:57 PM / Last Update: 3/11/2010, 12:59 PM

      Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) said Thursday he was “very worried” by the applause that a Tel Aviv University audience gave Vice President Joe Biden when he expressed his condemnation of construction in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem. “I am concerned about the erosion of the red lines we set for ourselves and the lessening of the understanding of Israel's strategic needs, about which there can be no compromise,” he said.

      The moment Rivlin referred to can be seen in the accompanying video, when Biden says that Palestinian Authority leaders' “commitment to peace” is “an opportunity that must be seized, it must be seized. Who has there been better to date?..."

      "But instead," Biden goes on, "two days ago the Israeli government announced it would advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem. I realize that this is a very touchy subject in Israel as well as in my own country but because that decision, in my view, undermined the trust needed for productive negotiations, I – at the request of President Obama – condemned it immediately and unequivocally.”

      The audience – which appears in some camera shots to be a group that does not fill the seats and that includes children – breaks out into loud clapping and cheering.

      Knesset Member Uri Ariel said that "Biden blatantly interfered in the internal affairs of Israel. And the Israelis who applauded Biden's words do not understand that by doing so they are damaging Israel's image as an independent Zionist state."

      Status quo unsustainable
      Biden said he originally thought the construction was to begin right away, but that after he heard from Netanyahu that it could be a matter of years before it begins, "there is no reason not to resume the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

      “The status quo is not sustainable,” Biden said, referring to the stalemate between the sides. He posited that Israel would be unable to remain a Jewish state while the Arab population continues to grow unless a Palestinian state is formed alongside it. 

      The visiting Vice President praised Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), saying, "President Obama believes in Abu Mazen and in the fact that the Israelis finally have a Palestinian leader who shares with them the idea of the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is an opportunity that must not be wasted."

      Regarding Iran, Biden said that the struggle against Iran's nuclear program is "at the top of the priorities of the U.S. Administration. The United States is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, period."  He said that the Arab nations that are concerned about Iranian nuclear power "should promote the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

      Full speech: