Joe Biden says two-state solution is 'best for future' as he begins Middle East tour

American leader will spend two days in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders before heading to Saudi Arabia

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US-Israeli relations are “bone deep”, President Joe Biden said upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday at the beginning of a high-profile trip to the Middle East.

The US president was met by a delegation of Israeli leaders including acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid, alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog.

An Israeli military band played the American national anthem under the glaring sun as temperatures rose above 30°C.

Mr Biden kept his remarks brief: describing himself as a Zionist, he said that in the long term, a Palestinian state was the best option for peace in the region. This view has put his administration at odds with an array of influential Israeli nationalist parties and was met by the stony faces of the leaders in attendance.

The 79 year-old president, who is embarking on his 10th visit to Israel, will also head to the occupied West Bank to discuss aid to Palestinians during meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders who want the US to commit to pressuring Israel to halt settlement expansion.

Mr Biden will spend two days in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.

The talks with Mr Abbas will mark the highest level of face-to-face contact between the US and the Palestinians since then-president Donald Trump took a tough approach to the relationship on taking office in 2017.

After his visit to Israel, the president's plane, Air Force One, will fly directly from to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, a first for an American president, before he attends a summit with regional allies, hosted by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Greater peace, greater stability, greater connection, it's critical, it's critical for all the people of the region,” Mr Biden said and added that his administration remained committed to a two-state solution to end the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

“We'll discuss my continued support — even though I know it's not in the near term — a two-state solution that remains in my view the best way to ensure a future of equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Following his arrival, the two countries launched a strategic high-level dialogue on technology, which aims to advance a “technological partnership on critical and emerging technologies and solutions to global challenges: pandemic preparedness, climate change, implementation of artificial intelligence and trusted technology ecosystems”, the White House said in a statement.

Mr Biden has said in the past he visited Israel “every chance” he got.

“To return to this great country is a blessing because the connection between the Israeli and American people is bone deep — we invest in each other, we dream together, we are part of the objective we have both had,” he said.

The US president's visit is a “historic and personal one”, said Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

“It is historic because it shows the bond between our two states, it is personal because of your relations with Israel,” he said.

Mr Lapid said during a welcoming ceremony for Mr Biden that the two sides will discuss building a new security and economy architecture with Middle East states following the historic Abraham Accords.

“We will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear programme,” he said.

Israel has said it will do whatever is necessary to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. It is staunchly opposed to a restoration of the 2015 deal that gave Tehran sanctions relief.

During his trip to Saudi Arabia, Mr Biden will hold talks with Saudi officials and attend a summit of regional allies at the weekend, attending a meeting of the Gulf Co-operation Council plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, known as the GCC+3.

His trip aims to promote regional stability, deepen Israel's integration in the region and counter Iranian influence.

President Joe Biden returns a salute as he boards Air Force One for a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia. AP

“This trip will reinforce a vital American role in a strategically consequential region,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday.

Following his arrival in Israel, Mr Biden will receive a briefing from Israeli defence officials on the US-supported Iron Dome defence system and a new laser-enabled system called Iron Beam.

He will then pay his respects at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to Holocaust victims of the Second World War.

US-Palestinian ties have recently been strained by the May killing of prominent Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she was covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

The UN has concluded the Palestinian-American was killed by Israeli fire, something Washington said was likely but that there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: July 13, 2022, 2:47 PM
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