Biden further stated, “It’s a tough neighborhood and it starts with Iran. It’s not just in Israel’s interest. It’s in the interest of the United States and the rest of the world to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, period. Not contain – prevent. We are not looking for war; we are ready to negotiate peacefully, and while the window is closing, we believe that there is still time and space to prevent that outcome.”
The vice president emphasized that President Obama has stood strong against all efforts to delegitimize Israel. “Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate. It is not negotiable.”
Biden shared a story about his childhood years, little known to most people. “My father was what you call a righteous Christian. It was at the dinner table where first I heard the phrase ‘Never Again.’ It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it (the Holocaust) could never happen again was the establishment of a secure Jewish state of Israel.” Biden related how baffled his father was about the debate that ensued after World War II, questioning the establishment of the State of Israel. Biden emphasized that President Obama shares this commitment to the security of the State of Israel. “While we may not always agree on tactics – we’ve always disagreed at some point and time on tactics—but we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen.”
Biden also spoke about the $300 million-plus contribution America made to the Iron Dome missile defense system and how it saved lives in the last round of missile attacks from Gaza. In addition to discussing the current internal armed conflict in Syria and the great threat of Syria’s chemical and biological weaponry, the vice president mentioned the dangers of the Arab Spring and the disintegration of the stable relationship between Israel and Egypt.
Biden then related an experience he had as a young senator on his first trip to Israel, when he first met Prime Minister Golda Meir. The prime minister took him out to meet a group of journalists and she told him not to worry too much about the future of the State of Israel. “We have a secret weapon,” she said. Thinking it was a unique new weapon, Biden asked Meir what it was, and she answered, “We have no place else to go.”
Biden concluded his AIPAC speech by reiterating that “It is our job to make sure that there’s always a place to go, that there’s always an Israel, that there’s always a secure Israel and that there’s an Israel that can take care of itself.”
Biden’s speech was clearly in preparation for the upcoming visit of President Obama to Israel. He stated, “No president has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.” He continued, “The president is particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the young generation. The president wants to converse with Israeli youngsters about their hopes and aspirations, about their astonishing world- leading technological achievements, and about the future they envision for themselves and for their country.” This statement was particularly directed to the over 2,000 college and high school students present at the 2013 Policy Conference.
Following the speech by the U.S. vice president, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the AIPAC crowd via a live satellite hookup with Jerusalem.
Netanyahu was unable to attend the conference due to his time-consuming responsibilities in forming a government coalition following Israel’s recent election. He launched his comments by acknowledging President Obama’s forthcoming visit, stating, “The first thing that my new government will have the privilege to do is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. It will give me and the people of Israel the opportunity to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.”
Netanyahu continued, “The President and I agreed to focus our discussions on three issues: first, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; second, the deteriorating situation in Syria; third, the need to find a responsible way to advance peace with the Palestinians.”
Concerning Iran, Netanyahu reiterated that the sanctions have failed to work and that the clock is ticking as Iran gets closer and closer to the “Red Line” that he had set at the United Nations last September. The prime minister stated, “Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.” Netanyahu further declared, “Israel must always be able to defend itself by itself against any threat to its existence. The Jewish people know the cost of being defenseless against those who would exterminate us. We will never let that happen again.”
On Syria, Netanyahu stated his intent to discuss with President Obama the deteriorating situation that has killed over 70,000 people and wounded hundreds of thousands. He also said that he would discuss with Obama the danger of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of terror groups such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, who are committed to Israel’s destruction.
On the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said that he will ask for the president’s support in seeking to obtain a peace agreement that will be grounded in the reality of the current situation in the Middle East. Netanyahu further stated, “It must be grounded in security. Israel withdrew from Lebanon. We withdrew from Gaza. We gave up territory. We got terror. We cannot allow that to happen a third time. Israel is prepared for a meaningful compromise. But as Israel’s prime minister, I will never compromise on our security. We must work to find a realistic path forward — a measured step-by -step process in which we advance to a verifiable, durable and defensible peace.”
Netanyahu ended by telling the audience that he intends to show President Obama a different side of Israel, i.e. the “Start Up Nation” technological marvel that Israel has become. The prime minister said he would portray an “Israel, that each day pushes the boundaries of medicine and science to the ends of human imagination. Israel, that has one of the world’s most vibrant cultures and one of the world’s most dynamic peoples. Israel, the modern Jewish state living in the ancient Jewish homeland.”
Other speakers at the AIPAC 2013 Policy Conference included Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, Senators John McCain and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Marcia Fudge and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
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