JERUSALEM, March 11, 2010— -- Vice President Joe Biden urged Israelis and Palestinians to take historic steps toward peace during his keynote address at Tel Aviv University today.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the status quo is not sustainable," he warned in his most passionate comment.
Biden delivered the speech as Palestinians declared they would not participate in the newly launched, indirect talks unless Israel revoked a plan to build more Jewish-settler homes in East Jerusalem.
That surprise announcement embarrassed the vice president earlier this week, on the day he spent in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Biden repeated an earlier condemnation of the move in his speech today.
"That decision in my view undermined the trust required for productive negotiations, so I, and at the request of the President Obama, condemned it immediately and unequivocally," he said.
The comment incited applause and loud cheers from his audience of mostly Israeli students.
The plan, he added, would not be implemented for several years and the hope is that negotiations between the two parties would have concluded successfully by then.
Biden did not address the Palestinians' latest demand that Israel withdraw its plan, instead urging both parties to forge ahead with indirect talks that he hoped would soon develop into direct negotiations.
"We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 67 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel's goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel's security requirements," he said, repeating what is becoming the standard proclamation in support of the so-called two-state solution.
Israel could not fulfill the biblical role of being a "light unto the nations" while it was in a permanent state of war with its neighbors, he said.
"To end this historic conflict, both sides must be historically bold, because if each waits stubbornly for the other to act first, this will go on and will be waiting for an eternity," he said.
U.S. Commitment to Israel
During the opening part of his speech, the vice president spoke warmly of his own personal attachment to Israel and pointedly repeated reassurances that the Obama administration is committed to Israel's security and is paying a price through its active involvement in the region.
"I am here to remind you, and I hope you will never forget, that America stands with you shoulder to shoulder," he said.
On Iran, he defended the U.S. administration's attempt to engage the regime in diplomacy but said the United States had not gone soft on Tehran.
"The United States is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, period," he said. "I know that for Israel, there is no greater strategic existential threat. Trust me, we get that."
Biden and his wife will fly later today to Jordan, where they are scheduled to have dinner with King Abdullah.
President Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to return to the region next week to try to coax the Palestinians back into peace talks.