1990s: Israel and AIPAC

Joe Biden made clear that when it comes to U.S. policy in the Middle East, supporting Israel and AIPAC is what matters most

The Israeli and United States flags are projected on the walls of the ramparts of Jerusalem's Old City, to mark one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 15, 2019.
The Israeli and U.S. flags are projected on the walls of the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City on May 15, 2019. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Throughout the 1990s, Joe Biden remained one of the most ardent supporters of the Israeli government in the U.S. Senate. In 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, he proposed creating a supplier cartel to “control the proliferation of advanced conventional arms” as well as the technology “needed to build or deploy offensive ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and nuclear weapons.” The proposal was part of a campaign by Biden to control arms sales in the aftermath of the war, described as a means of halting a spiral of violence in the region. It was supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the flagship Israel lobby, for effectively locking in Israel’s military advantage in the region, including its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Biden opposed moves by the George H.W. Bush administration to place conditions on loan guarantees to Israel in response to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. He co-sponsored a bill aimed at forcing Bush to make the guarantees unconditional. During a 1992 speech at AIPAC’s annual policy conference, Biden expressed opposition to U.S. moves to put pressure on Israel to seek an agreement with its neighbors. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now at the ‘peace table,’ quote, unquote, with unclean hands, because there is a feeling abroad in this administration among some in Congress that somehow we owe an obligation to our Arab brethren to have Israel, quote, ‘be reasonable,’” Biden said, dismissing the “absurd notion that publicly vilifying Israel will somehow change its policy.”

Biden was an early proponent of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move that finally took place in 2020 under the Trump administration. In 1995, Biden helped pass a Senate resolution demanding that the embassy be moved by May of that year. Despite objections that it would harm ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by deciding a key issue by fiat, Biden said the move would send a positive signal to the region. “To do less would play into the hands of those who would do their hardest to deny Israel the full attributes of statehood,” Biden said.

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