Biden lands in Israel for first visit to the region as president
President Biden landed in Israel Wednesday for the start of his first trip to the region since taking office.
Why it matters: The trip is aimed at showing the Israeli people that Biden cares deeply about the Jewish state and its security, as well as reassuring the Palestinians of his administration's support, officials have said. But the more important, and controversial, stop on his trip will be his visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Driving the news: Upon landing in Tel Aviv, Biden was greeted by Yair Lapid, who became acting prime minister less than two weeks ago after the coalition government collapsed and new elections were called. Israel is in the midst of its fifth election campaign in less than four years.
- "We will discuss building a new security and economy architecture with the nations of the Middle East, following the Abraham Accords and the achievements of the Negev Summit," Lapid said at the welcoming ceremony.
- "We will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear program," he added.
- Biden said that even though he knows "it won’t happen in the near future, we will discuss ... my support for a two-state solution," as well as work on increasing Israel’s integration in the region.
What to expect: On Thursday, Biden and Lapid will have a working meeting before holding a virtual summit with Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi that will focus on food security.
- During his talks with Israeli officials, Biden is expected to discuss Iran, the normalization process between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv Wednesday that Biden will emphasize his support of the two-state solution as the only way to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state while achieving independence for Palestinians.
- Sullivan added that at the same time, the president is aware of the challenges and therefore will not present any initiatives to resume peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials, but will urge the parties to take steps that could improve the situation and allow peace talks in the future.
Biden and Lapid will also sign "The Jerusalem Declaration," which will serve as the framework for the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship moving forward. Israeli officials said it will be the main deliverable of the visit.
- Israeli and U.S. officials have been working on the declaration for almost two months and Israeli officials say that such a broad and comprehensive statement on the U.S.-Israeli relationship hasn’t been published in more than two decades.
- The joint declaration will include a clause that says the U.S. and Israel will use all elements of their national power to ensure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, Israeli officials said.
- Sullivan said Israel has a different view than the U.S. about the Iran deal but the Biden administration believes diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. “There is a deal on the table and the president believes Iran should take it," Sullivan said.
Also on Thursday, Biden will meet Israeli President Isaac Herzog and participate in a reception with senior Israeli officials. He will also hold a 15-minute meeting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for 40 years, but in the last year the U.S. president’s top unofficial priority on Israel was to help the Israeli government survive, which would prevent Netanyahu from returning to power.
- Sullivan said that one of the messages Biden wants to convey in this visit is that U.S.-Israeli relations are not about “who sits in which chair." Sullivan stressed that the fact Israel is in an election period won’t influence the president’s talks.
- Sullivan said the meeting with Netanyahu shows Biden is talking to different political leaders in Israel.
On Friday morning, Biden will visit the Augusta Victoria Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, where he is expected to announce $100 million in U.S. assistance to the Palestinian hospitals network in the area.
- Biden’s visit to the hospital is diplomatically sensitive due to the fact it is located in East Jerusalem, which most countries see as the future Palestinian capital. Biden administration officials rejected an Israeli request to have Israeli officials join the visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital, as Axios previously reported.
- While there, Biden is expected to meet Palestinian civil society activists before traveling to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a visit to the Church of Nativity.
- The Palestinian leadership has very low expectations for the U.S. president's visit, Palestinian officials say.
Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia for the last leg of his trip late Friday.
- Biden's visit, which will reset his administration's relations with the Gulf kingdom, is seen as diplomatically and politically sensitive.
- Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" and relations have been strained over a number of issues, including the kingdom's human rights record and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence says MBS is responsible for Khashoggi's murder — an allegation Saudi Arabia denies.
The Saudi visit will include a summit with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
- It will also include a bilateral meeting, focused on repairing relations, the U.S. need for an increase in Saudi oil production and on normalization steps between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Biden earlier this month tried to downplay the bilateral part of his trip amid criticism among some Democrats in Congress.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details from after Biden's arrival in Israel.