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Forward Interview: Biden Rejects Clamoring For the Greater U.S.-Israel Distance

As the liberals clamor for greater distance between the U.S. and Israel, one of Washington’s most vocal critics of the administration’s Middle East policy is vowing to keep the two countries joined at the hip if he is elected president.

Delaware Senator Joseph Biden rejected the notion that the U.S. needs to become a more neutral player in the Middle East, while criticizing the White House as uninvolved and ineffective. He spoke to the Forward for 45 minutes over oatmeal at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel yesterday morning,

“In my 34 year career, I have never wavered from the notion that the only time progress has ever been made in the Middle East is when the Arab nations have known that there is no daylight between us and Israel,” said Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee. “So the idea of being an ‘honest broker’ is not, I think, like some of my Democratic colleagues call for, is not the answer. It is being the smart broker, it is being the smart partner.”

Biden, a dark-horse Democratic presidential contender known for straight talk (and the occassional gaffe), has long been a strong supporter of Israel in Congress and is now aggressively courting Jewish voters and donors for his 2008 bid. The debate over the U.S.-Israel relationship, meanwhile, has reached a fevered pitch in the wake of last week’s Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nick Krisof published an op-ed in the paper that argued that the country lacks a serious debate over Israel, and needs to back away from its “crushing embrace” of Israeli hardliners.

Biden argued that the U.S. doesn’t need more distance, but does need to become a more effective, proactive partner for peace.

“We contract our foreign policy, and that is a dangerous situation,” Biden said. “Do you think there’s any reasonable prospect that the Saudis are going to push Hamas to recognize Israel? So now we have a quote unity government and we’re going, ‘Oh my goodness, we have a problem.’”

Check back later for the full Q and A.

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