The United States on Tuesday criticized Israeli plans to build new housing beyond a disputed line in Jerusalem as it prepares to broker indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders meant to lead to a two-state solution in the region.
I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem, Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House today.
He is in the region this week ahead of the start of indirect talks, which come after months of inactivity between the Israeli government and the Palestinian officials. Israel launched attacks into the Gaza strip in December of 2008 to end rocket attacks by militants.
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, Biden said.
The state agency in charge of local planning approved construction of 1,600 housing units beyond the green line which defines Israel's borders before a 1967 war with its neighbors. On Monday, Israel's defense ministry approved plans to build 112 new housing units on the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus' office said it was unaware of the construction. The head of Israel's Ministry of the Interior said the timing of the announcement was coincidental and had nothing to do with Biden's visit, according to Ynet news.
Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have called for a complete ban on new construction.
Earlier in the day, at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden lauded the Prime Minister's efforts on the issue of new construction, noting the slowdown in building.
Over the last year, Mr. Prime Minister, you have taken significant steps including the moratorium that has limited new settlement construction activity, Biden said.