JERUSALEM — President Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday to open a four-day visit to the Middle East that will focus on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, getting oil to U.S. gas pumps and improving relations with Saudi Arabia.
Nearly 50 years after making his first trip to Israel as a newly elected senator, Mr. Biden returned for the first time as president and wasted no time reaffirming his strong support for the Jewish state despite friction over his efforts to broker a new nuclear deal. Agreement with Iran.
“Every opportunity to return to this great country where the ancient roots of the Jewish people go back to biblical times is a blessing, because the connection between the Israeli people and the American people runs deep,” Biden said during a brief arrival. ceremony at Ben Gurion airport. “Generation after generation, that connection grows.”
Mr. Biden, who noted as he often does that he has met every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, whom he met on his first trip in 1973, was making his tenth visit to Israel and seemed determined to dispel the notion of who is any less sympathetic to the country than his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, who made his support for Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
“In my opinion, our relationship is deeper than ever,” Biden said.
Greeting him as he disembarked from Air Force One, Israeli leaders echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that they viewed Biden as a friend and not taking note of their differences. President Isaac Herzog called him “our brother Joseph” and declared, “You are truly among the family.” The country’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, called him “a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”
“It’s a very personal visit,” Mr. Lapid said, “because his relationship with Israel has always been very personal. You once defined yourself as a Zionist. You said you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. And you were right.
Without dwelling on it, Mr. Lapid confirmed that the two leaders would discuss Iran and their joint efforts to enhance cooperation between Middle Eastern countries. Once isolated in the region, Israel is increasingly involved in regional diplomacy, following landmark diplomatic deals with three Arab countries in 2020, and officials hope more progress will be made during Biden’s visit.
Mr Biden also touched on another area of potential tension, reaffirming his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following criticism that his administration has not prioritized the issue.
“We will discuss my continued support, although I know it is not in a new term, for a two-state solution which, in my opinion, remains the best way to ensure the future of the same measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Israelis. Palestinians alike,” Biden said.
Before his arrival, the Israeli government had made several small gestures to the Palestinians, including granting new work permits to Gazans. But while Biden is due to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, restoring communications that were severed during Trump’s presidency, there is little expectation that the visit will bring progress in resolving the dispute.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was a peripheral figure at the welcoming ceremony. Now out of office, he is the leader of the opposition and will only have a brief meeting with the president on Thursday.
But he and Biden have a warm, if often strained, relationship dating back four decades, and the American leader made sure to look up Netanyahu during a group photo for Israeli and American officials. Mr. Biden gave Mr. Netanyahu a long, warm handshake, and both men seemed happy to see each other.
The president’s trip comes at a sensitive time in Israeli politics. A fragile coalition government recently collapsed, leaving Lapid as caretaker prime minister until November elections in which Netanyahu hopes to return.
At the end of the reception ceremony, Lapid joked about his and Biden’s respective trajectories since an earlier meeting between the two in Washington.
He told Biden: “I don’t know if you remember, but eight years ago we met at the White House when you were vice president. You told me, ‘If I had hair like yours, I’d be president,’ to which I said, ‘And if I were your height, I’d be prime minister.