When U.S. President Joe Biden landed in Israel on Wednesday, kicking off his four-day tour in the region that will conclude in Saudi Arabia on Saturday – he acknowledged the biblical ties to the Land of Israel for the Jews.
“Every chance to return to this great country where the ancient roots of the Jewish people date back to biblical times, is a blessing. Because the connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep, it’s bone deep,” he said.
Upon arrival at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday afternoon, Biden highlighted his strong personal connection to the country, as well as between the Israeli and the American people.
“You need not be a Jew to be Zionist,” Biden reiterated from his previous statements on the Jewish state and also speech, invoked some prominent past Israeli leaders he has met.
At the same time Biden was delivering his remarks in Israel, the U.S. Labor Department announced that the Consumer Price Index jumped 9.1% in June – the largest increase in more than four decades.
The focus in the U.S. was on Biden’s expected appeal to Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to bring down energy prices while his administration’s policies have reduced U.S. oil production.
In Israel, the president was welcomed on the tarmac by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and alternate-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.
Traditional handshakes were replaced by COVID fist-bumps, in accordance with an earlier announcement by his staff that the president will seek to reduce direct contact during his trip abroad. Several U.S. based media outlets wondered if that decision was driven by the doctor’s recommendation, or rather by a strategy to avoid the appearance of shaking hands with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Some noted the president shook hands a day earlier at the White House before his departure. However, Biden broke protocol, shaking hands with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“You know I love you,” he told Netanyahu who replied, “Joe, you’re great.”
A Bloomberg report claimed that a “Biden handshake with Netanyahu muddles bid to limit MBS contact.” The White House does not expect Biden to hold a press conference in Saudi Arabia, according to a spokesperson.
Netanyahu, who is running for the premiership in the upcoming Israeli election in November, is expected to meet with Biden 1-on-1 for 15 minutes on Thursday. The president’s meeting with Lapid is scheduled for a full hour.
Netanyahu addressed Israeli media on the side of the welcome ceremony at the airport.
“In order to stop regimes – like in the one Iran - economic sanctions are not sufficient, nor are diplomatic sanctions,” Netanyahu said. “There is no way to stop Iran without a credible military threat, hoping that it would deter and if not – then you have no choice other than to use it.”
Biden did not mention Iran in his statement, however, he is slated to declare a “strategic partnership” with Israel during his visit to ensure Iran will never obtain nuclear weapons. The "Jerusalem Declaration” will underscore an American commitment to Israel’s security.
“With this visit, we are strengthening our connections even further. We’ve reaffirmed the unshakable commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, including partnering with Israel on the most cutting-edge defense systems in the world,“ Biden said in his first public statement from Israel.
“From here, I’m going straight to a briefing on Israeli missiles and rocket defense capabilities, including the U.S. support for the Iron Dome and Israel’s new laser-enabled system called the Iron Beam,” he added.
The president vowed to “deepen our connections in science and innovation” and “work to address global challenges through the new Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology,” as well as to “continue to advance Israel’s integration into the region.”
The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday that Israel intends to push Biden for a new plan called “Corridors for Economic Integration” that would create a regional transportation network including railways and highways linking Israel with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
One of the highlights of Biden's speech was when he said he will also discuss with local leaders “continued support – even though I know it’s not in the near term – for a two-state solution, which remains the best way for equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Palestinians hope that Biden’s visit will lead to the resumption of peace talks with Israel and put pressure on the Jewish state’s expansion of settlement construction. Ramallah also wishes to see increased U.S. financial support for the Palestinian cause and a re-opening of the consulate in East Jerusalem.
According to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who flew to Israel with Biden, the U.S. still seeks to open the consulate for Palestinians which was closed under former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Biden will fly directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel on Friday, a moment that he referred to as a "small symbol of the budding relations" between the two countries.
CNN reported that Saudi Arabia is expected to announce it will allow all commercial flights to and from Israel to use its airspace and allow Israel's Muslim minority to take direct charter flights to participate in the hajj in Mecca.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.