By Michael A. Memoli
3:17 PM PST, January 12, 2014
SHANNON, Ireland -- Vice President Joe Biden will hold separate meetings with Israel’s prime minister and president as part of his visit leading a U.S. delegation to mourn the late Ariel Sharon, the vice president’s office said Sunday.
Biden, whose Air Force Two plane touched down in Ireland to refuel, is scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv early Monday morning, in time for a national memorial service to honor the late prime minister known as “The Bulldozer.” Biden will also attend a private burial service at Sharon’s family ranch.
His meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres come after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has made repeated trips to the Mideast to rejuvenate talks between the Israelis and Palestinians to move them toward the goal of a two-state solution.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a member of the official U.S. delegation, said Biden’s meetings could be an opportunity to “build on” the work Kerry and his team have done.
“Anytime that you have a leader from the United States as significant as Vice President Biden sitting down with the prime minister of Israel, which Vice President Biden will be doing while we’re here, there’s an opportunity for progress,” Wasserman Schultz told reporters traveling with the delegation. “Every time there is an opportunity for progress, for the United States to be in a position to help Israel in the cause of crafting and finalizing a two-state solution, we take that opportunity.”
Wasserman Schultz remembered Sharon for the “significant courage” it took for him to preside over his nation’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, a step he took in an effort to pave the way for establishing a Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who also was part of the small delegation, compared Sharon’s role to the visit Richard Nixon, a self-styled “Cold War warrior,” made to China during his presidency.
“We really just don’t know what he would have done,” Engel said, referring to the 2006 stroke that incapacitated Sharon for the remainder of his life. “But I think it was interesting because, like Nixon, it was a move that you would never have imagined several years before.”
Engel expressed support for Kerry’s work to rejuvenate the peace process, even as he expressed his view that doing so would require a greater willingness by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to make concessions.
“I would hope that when we look back at the legacy of Sharon, maybe this would give the sides an opportunity to look at things with a fresh face,” Engel said. “But again, this is the Middle East, and sometimes you take one step forward and two steps backwards, or two steps forward and one step backward.”
Biden’s visit to Israel is his second as vice president. The last was in March 2010. Aides noted that Biden also made multiple visits during his more than 36 years as a U.S. senator, the last of those occurring in 2006.
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