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.
Ols Joe's got a real handle on it! Here's his quote from YESTERDAY!
"The bond between our two nations has been and will remain unshakable," Biden wrote in the guest book. "Only together can we achieve lasting peace in the region."
This administrations foreign policy is text book! Text book, I tell ya!
Now he's getting spanked by the Israeli's!
The respect this administration has earned from foreign countries in one short year is nothing less than astonishing!
Talk is cheap, and when it is contradicted by action (as is now the case) it is hypocritical. Cut off US funding to Israel and see how quickly things change for the better.
Israel should remove all settlements from the West Bank and Gaza unless they have Palestinian permission to build. Despite the fact that I think the Palestinian government is or close to being a terrorist organization, Gaza and the West Bank have been set aside for the Palestinian people as a homeland and their right should be respected.
Who's kidding whom? Biden probably wrote the check for this to happen. I think some of our politiicans actually have dual citizenship with Israel.
If we want peace in the middle east, the first thing to do is make Israel give up it's nuclear weapons and create a real trustworthy platform with no favoritism.
Sadly, we can not cut-off Foreign Aid to Israel! Democrats need the Jewish vote. However, I bet Jewish-Americans are against these illegal settlements.
Tragically, Israel has not learned the lessons from its own painful, tragic history and is doing to the Palestinians what was done to them.
@ Steve – Illinois, Well, thank goodness Dubya created mideast peace so that's one issue he didn't hand off to the new administration.
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.
Biden looks about as stupid as Jimmy Carter.
At some point in Americas history we must recognize Israel should be held accountable for some of their own actions and not just keep giving them the heads up approach.
Here comes the protectors of Israel, ready to blast the WH.
Completely ignorant of the fact that we give Israel about $3 billion a year in aid and additional $3 billion in loan garauntees.
Good job Patriots supporting Israel, these settlements will increase conflict with Palestine and we can provide them military aid for many years to come.
This is what you wanted right? Tax money spent on Israel, not Health Care.
Stevein IL.- Respect comes from strength not being a bully.
There is a saying- if your best won't tell you, who will? -describes what is happening here. As an ally, it is up to us to show them what they are doing is wrong and tlak them back form the ledge.
If Israel choses not to pay attention, then we must assess how much suppot we give and how much space we allow them to fail.
Who cares what Joe says? He is suppose to be following the Stimulis money and has become a Joke instead.
Israel will own all the oil in the region soon and rule the world.
Vice President Biden has never been one to mince words – and I believe is the only sitting politician ( or one of just 2 or 3 ) that has had a son within the last year stationed in a combat zone. You can say what you want – just as Ole' Joe will – but if what you are saying is being critical of a man who has lived the Washington scene for as long as he has – and has the backbone to do what he is doing – then you are worth the listening too – but if not – go find another forum to to poison with your mistatements and halftruths. Biden is for real – and God know we need folks up there with enough moxy and moral terpitude to lead this country out of the morass of lies and deceipt we have all been fed over previous 8 years – I just hope he decides to stick around for another 12.
WE NEED JOE BIDEN........................
Time to cut the cord!
I am Jew and I love Israel but the Israeli leadership at the moment is not playing by the rules. The state of Israel was created on moral grounds, but many actions of Bibi's government are immoral. Israel cannot on one hand ask the world to sanction the bully and crazy government of Iran while Israel refuses and demagogues peace with the Palestinians and bullies them...
The irony of our mid-east policy is that in one hand, we keep aiding Israel in an unchecked fashion, and on the other hand, we keep talking about "lasting peace". The fact is, neither Israeli conservatives nor Palestinian hardliners have any interest in peace. As long as there is conflict, Israel makes upwards of $6 billion from a cash cow that is the U.S., and the Palestinian hardliners keep getting $2/$3 billion in aid from their sympathizers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc.
You stop the conflict and suddenly both parties end up losing a LOT of money. So, why bother? Meanwhile, most peace loving Israelis and Palestinians want to just move on and live and prosper.
Our policies towards both sides need to change. But that takes political courage and conviction, and I am afraid, neither the democrats nor the republicans have that.
The only bad decision Harry Truman made was to resettle Jewish refugees in the Middle East. If we had allowed the Jews to settle in, say, Ecuador or Brazil, those countries would now be much more prosperous and the Middle East would not be such a cauldron of violence. I'm sure our great-grandchildren will be struggling with the Middle East.
jrow Bidden is a scumbag! to say what you said you must be related to him, he is a man that can AND HAS been purchased. typical politician who looks out for his donors always has and always will. either that or you must be a credit card executive.
How are you paying for it??? wrote: "Biden looks about as stupid as Jimmy Carter."
I take issue with the characterization of Carter as incompetent. Carter warned us about fossil fuels, middle eastern problems, energy dependency, unlimited growth, etc. Instead of listening to him, we replaced him with that clueless old codger Reagan, who accomplished NOTHING for eight years except running up the deficit $1.5 trilion dollars – more than all the 40 presidents who preceded him.
It is interesting to see a few more American citizens having the courage to begin to question Zionism.
Once again Israel has tumb its nose at the US and the world.The US who provides all of their Military equipment plus annual finanical assistance which allows Isreal to provide almost $6,000 a year to each of its citizen and what do we get , their back side which we keep following around like a dog in heat. because Israel knows the US don't want to upset all of their Jewish American support.The time has come for the US to start using its muscle and start showing Isreal our back side by cutting of their finanical strings, then and only then they will get the message.
Good job Joe. Israel doesn't seem to be serious about a Peace Deal with the Palestinians and they wonder why the Arab world hates them.
The U.S. needs to be tough with Israel and prove to the Arab world we're an honest broker.
It's about time we pull the plug on Israel welfare $ and special perks if they are going to play games like that.
Yes I also vote for cutting the cord and stop giving Israel any $ until they are serious about legit Peace Deal.
And Israel says, "Who is Joe Biden"