Biden, in Israel, hits notes of loyalty, emotion — and caution

Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Israel in 13 years Tuesday, offering a show of strong support for one of Washington’s closest and most important allies in the Middle East but also stressing restraint in the conflict with the Palestinians.

Sitting in Jerusalem’s Old City alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden both praised and sympathized with Israelis — describing the nation as an “emotional, emotional place” in which “history reverberates in every corner.”

But the President also urged restraint as he discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — noting that Netanyahu had personally informed him of plans to build hundreds of new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem. Biden urged the prime minister to “build trust” between Israelis and Palestinians — and the U.S. would “continue to press for peace and security.”

Biden has strongly rejected any attempt to weaken Israel’s security, telling Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that the U.S.-Israel “alliance will never waver even one single instant.” But he also bluntly warned that the lack of progress on peace talks was “endangering Israel’s future” — and putting at risk an agreement that the U.S. has long championed.

The president’s visit seemed tailored to emphasize the friendship between the nations, with smiling meetings and military flyovers of American fighter jets. He also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and emphasized American commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict. Yet Biden also seemed intent on striking a balance, clearly expressing support for Isreal’s security but also urging Netanyahu to exercise caution and keep the door open to peace.

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