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.
No matter how much Israel gives it will never be enough, how much land have they already given up only to still be attacked? They need to stop appeasing the Palestinians, build their settlements, protect their borders and destroy them if they have to do so.
It is Obama's policy toward Isarel. On one hand, we support you because "there is no light space between two countries". On the other hand, we condemn you because we support Palestine people. Well, nice try double talks!
If any other country so routinely violated established international law, we would bomb 'em. Why does Israel consistently get a free pass as just "unhelpful to the peace process?" Could it be the millions of dollars that AIPAC puts into US politicans' pockets every year?!
Why do we continue to coddle Israel? We need to remove all aid to Israel and let them go it alone. This is an insult to the US and the peace initiative. They are toying with Biden and Obama for that matter. Israel need to go their own way, STOP the cash cow to Israel. I pay my taxes, working since 14 years ol and I don't want my money going to Israel when they have disdain for the administration.
STOP THE MONEY!!! let them attack Iran but without help from the US. And see how far Netanyahu and his militant foreign minister go without US support. I tired of Israel and their churlish ways of dealing with their neighbor. STOP the flow of cash and expose for what they are. GREEDY!!!
Obummie is a Muslim and is against Israel. Israel needs to take care of itself and if Obummie sticks his nose in it they need to smack it.
Israel never intrested in peace because they don't want to give up the land which they grab in 6 days war in 1967.
Obama's probem is being Half Muslim he can not do any thing to bring peace.
So bottom line, because of our friend Israel we have to continue taking off our shoes at airport
I guess the US vice pres is worried about building inside Israel, must be a forclosure issue?!?
Israel continues to shoot themselves in the foot, because they believe the US will always fix it for them.
Time for the US to stop enabling Israel's bad behavior. Only then, can there be a slim chance for lasting peace.
Yeah, follow the script, Joe. Pretend to yell at the naughty Israelis, then send them another billion bucks.
Israel is all grown up now–they should be taking responsibility for their own actions rather than hiding behind Mama America's skirts whenever they start trouble with their neighbours.
Israel does nothing for us. It's time and past for the US to quit propping up this nation of arrogant bullies and not only save ourselves billions of dollars every year but, by ending our outrageous double-standard in dealing with countries in the mid-east, maybe start repairing the damage we've done to our relationships with them over the last sixty years.
Isreal is the real terrorist in the Mideast...you know what they say about "frienemies"...
Israel has never really trusted this Administration, the evidence has shown and I say good for them. That's not to say they will do things the bad way but Israel is all grown up, they can take care of themselves.
Just think of it this way...you have your own property, housing, shelter, car, etc, right? Don't you think that if you feel threatened or scarred that you will get protection? By owning a gun, for example? Is the same thing here, only is a big, big house, that's for sure.
If protecting Jerusalem and caring for its structures and ideaology will help keep them intact, then I have no problem paying for them at all. After all, Jesus died there, are you haters out there not recognizing such an event? Oh yeah, I forgot, you all lean to the left, my bad.
So happy to have an Administration that doesn't suck up to the Israelis at all costs like the prior idiots.If there's going to be peace it's going to happen with the U.S. being fair, not taking sides as it always has done.
you can't steal what is already yours Obama worshippers and jew haters need to realize that the west bank was jewish land way before th arabs decided to settle there
The Obama administration shoot straight with their allies. You have to tell them where you agree and disagree, that's how you get to compromise.
One day he's shouting accolades, the next he's admonishing them for actions they announced hours later! This guys a real bulldog! The Israeli's know Bidens nothing but hot air!
Stephie, wasn't it Biden who said "Iraq will be one of the great accomplishments of this administration" just a few weeks ago?
Let's see, ya follow the plan Dubya put in place then claim the credit for it! Biden and Obama voted against everything they could involving Iraq, even going so far as to say the war is lost. ( I believe that also was Biden)
This guy's integrity is something to behold!
By the way, didn't the Iraqi's just hold an election? I supposeOle Joe should get the credit for the success of that too!
A real "stand up" guy!
Biden spent an hour yesterday saying how long he and his bud "Bebe" Netenyahu have been friends. Now "Bebe" slaps him right in the face. Biden is a joke and an embarrassment on the international stage. President Obama and Hillary should never let this guy out of the country, let him make appperances around the country touting all the great Govt jobs being "created or saved". At least he won't get into too much trouble.
This administration is losing all credibility around the world.
Not our Country, Not our Problem, not with my money.
Tell the whole middle east to deal with their own problems and lets bring our soldiers home.
Israel isn't interested in peace, they just want to keep taking more and more Palestinian land. If they would stop stealing land, there would be peace. The US should stop giving them money.
We should not condemn Israel for so called occupied land until we give up all of our occupied land.
Cut them off. See how fast they change their tune
The VP is right on. Every time we try and make progress the hard line isralies pull a stunt like this. They need to be treated like any other country and this is the first administration that had said this. Cudos to you Mr vp and the President too for trying to bring peace to this region
This all talk and Israel knows he is not serious. If the US is serious about peace in the middle East, they will stop all aide to the Zionist entity and force it the same way white south Africa had to wake up to reality after long denial of reality. The Palestinian people have nothing to do with what Happned to the European jews. My Family lived in Palestine lime Many other jews and the people of that Land and my brothers and my sisters.Mr Biden show us courage and stop claim you are Zionist that is almost close to calling yourself ...Let's not say the word. God Bless
Hey Joe...who cares what you say. You and BO have not done anything to help Israel against Iran. A nation who says it wants to wipe Israel off the map.
You have the stones to question Israel now for developing nuclear energy? This is what happens when the world knows you are weak...they run all over you.
GO ISRAEL GO!!!!!!!!!
When Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates that Israel will never withdraw from East Jerusalem, nor return to 1967 borders, nor allow Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel. I tend to believe him, which really convinces me of the futility of seeking peace with Israel. Unfortunately, it is too late for peace with Israel. Now it is either open-ended conflict, or a single democratic state in all of mandatory Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean where all inhabitants are viewed as citizens, irrespective of religion and ethnicity. Needless to say, the later concept is anathema for Israel, since it would lead to the loss of Israel’s Jewish racist identity.