Jerusalem (CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States condemns Israel's decision to build 1,600 housing units in a Jerusalem neighborhood, calling it "a step that undermines the trust we need right now."
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said in a statement issued just hours after he met with Israeli leaders in the region.
"The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."
The construction, announced earlier Tuesday, will be in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, located in disputed territory in East Jerusalem. The Israeli Interior Ministry denies the territory is in East Jerusalem.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs echoed Biden's condemnation at a briefing in Washington.
"I don't believe that either the substance or the timing [of the announcement] is particularly helpful, and I think [it] runs counter to the very productive talks the vice president was having in the region," Gibbs said.
Biden is the highest-ranking member of the Obama administration yet to visit Israel, and he emphasized America's close ties with Israel earlier Tuesday during meetings with top Israeli leaders. He said the bond between the two nations is unshakable.
On efforts to restart the peace process, Biden said, "We are at a moment of real opportunity. I think that the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people, if everybody stops and takes a deep breath, are actually more in line than they are opposites."
After the plan for construction was announced, lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Israeli government is "determined to undermine" efforts to jump-start peace negotiations and called the plan "a disaster."
The area where the construction is to take place is "in occupied Palestinian territory, and that's the issue we are supposed to negotiate, and now they are dictating rather than negotiating," Erakat said.
The Israeli Interior Ministry said the construction plan was approved by a district committee, and the public can express objections to it over the next 60 days.
The minister of interior did not approve the plan, as expanding an existing neighborhood is in the hands of the district committee, the ministry said.
However, Meir Margalit of the Jerusalem Municipality - representing the leftist party Meretz - said the ministry's planning and building committee is a political committee that acts under the minister's political guidance. Even if objections are voiced in the 60-day period, he said, most are ignored.
The claim that the minister had no hand in the decision is a "complete lie," Margalit said. "The minister decides his office's policy, including that of the committee."
In a later announcement, the Interior Ministry said the plan has taken more than three years to come to fruition and is a "procedural stage as part of a longer procedure which would take quite some time to complete."
"The timing of the committee meeting was preset and has nothing to do with the American vice president's visit to Israel," the ministry said.
The announcement came a day after George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for Middle East peace, announced that Israeli and Palestinian leaders had accepted indirect talks aimed at restarting direct talks. Negotiations between the two sides have been stalled for over a year.
In announcing those indirect talks, Mitchell, who is also visiting the region with Biden, encouraged both sides to refrain from any statements or actions that could inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of the talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January his government made a series of concessions to the Palestinians, including a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and the removal of dozens of checkpoints and roadblocks. However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had refused to re-enter negotiations until Israel enacted a complete freeze of all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
On Monday, Erakat expressed skepticism about the indirect talks, pointing to Israeli approval of 112 apartment units in a settlement in the southern part of the West Bank near Bethlehem.
Abbas told Mitchell, Erakat said, that "if every visit is going to be announced by more settlements and unilateral declarations and imposing reality on the ground ... this places a question mark on all the efforts that we are undergoing."
–CNN's Kevin Flower and Guy Azriel contributed to this report.
The majority of the USA citizens condemn biden and obama as the most useless things to ever hit the white house.
cut off their funds and weapons..how stupid can they beÉÉÉ
These deicidal scum need to be taught a lesson once in for all. America is suffering under the control of these hook-nosed Yids and their pariah state.
I'm glad that this country and it's leaders have finally woken up to Israel's abusive policies towards Palestinians. Palestinians are second class citizens in Israel and are separated from Israeli society- it's not quite apartheid, but it's close. For too long we have blindly supported Israel, whether it be because they are an Democratic ally in critical region or the fact that rich Jewish nationalists in America have essentially bought support for Israel by contributing to the campaigns of politicians in powerful positions affecting our foreign policy. The fact that Biden has come out and criticized Israel's expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands is a real reason to be optimistic about our foreign policy going forward.
Here's the devil's helper himself condemning the Israeli's of doing God's work. Does not any of these people study the Bible. READ THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS YOU CAN NOT SUCCEED OBAMA.,
It is incredable how far these politicians (and may of the bloggers here) are so far separated from reality. Have you folks been listening to Bibi for the past 15 years? If you have, you cannot seriously be surprised.
I echo the statement to cut off funding to Israel. I have grown tired of their unproductive actions and self proclaimed entitlement. It is obvious they do not want peace...ever; yet the US still lets them sit in their lap.
Billions to Israel, who act like only they have the right to live there. Cut the Cord. They have abused their position. They have become the oppressor of personal freedoms for a few displaced Arabs. All men have a right to have a homeland if desired and a place to call home. The world did both no good by dividing up that area and making two antagonistic people live in the same space. Course the rest of the Arab world didn't help either. all need to work together to insure a proper home for all. NEVER HAPPEN.
So where's the influence Obama promised us he would have if we just elected him President? How can Israel take any risks toward peace when Obama is letting Iran arm Hezbollah and Hamas on their borders with missiles and advanced weapons, and letting Iran obtain a nuclear arsenal?
Jews are hated because they could care less of others.. They treat te Palestinians as Hitler treated them... they are no different than Hitler.
What jews would do if the roles would be the reverse? If Palestinians would take the land from jews and the palestiniand wouls calim that God gave them that land? Reality of live goes beyond religious beliefs which is a product of the ignorance of human beings... and jews take advantage of that. If jews want peace.. then they should move out of the West bank and let the Palestinians have their own country. It is ok for the jews to kill Palestinians who have no future because they are living under an apartheid. The funny thing jews claim they believe in God and they kill.
No doubts that the Israeli government has to deal with terrorists in an hourly basis. NO DOUBTS. Sadly, no doubts that every now and then the Israeli government gaves those (insert any unpronouciable word in here) a 'justification' for their actions.
Attention I said 'justification' because it's an obvious EXCUSE that the terrorist can sell easily to their supporters and through those to the rest of the world.
The terrorists would use ANYthing that Israel do or don't do as an EXCUSE, but when they have such a good EXCUSE (when the Israeli government do something that even the US government has no other option but to condemn since is an obvious criminal act), they have a field day in their recruitment fields!
And sadly, the Israeli government knows it very well, but simple don't care?
Israel has every right to settle this region. The anger this administration shows is to be expected considering it is full of anti-semites.