Israeli settlement plan slammed

2010-03-10 20:06
US Vice President Joseph Biden, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, West Bank. (Debbie Hill, AP Photo/Pool)

US Vice President Joseph Biden, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, West Bank. (Debbie Hill, AP Photo/Pool) (Debbie Hill)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

  • Promises to Keep
    Democratic Senator Biden, presents an insiders look at life in the senate, Washington politics, and... Now R298.00
    buy now

Jerusalem - Vice President Joe Biden condemned an Israeli plan to build hundreds of homes in disputed east Jerusalem on Tuesday - a disagreement that tarnished a high-profile visit that had been aimed at repairing ties with the Jewish state and kick-starting Mideast peace talks.

Israel's Interior Ministry said late on Tuesday that it had approved construction of 1 600 new apartments, an embarrassing setback for Biden after a day of warm meetings with top Israeli officials.

Although ministry officials said the announcement was procedural and unconnected to the visit, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was blindsided and tried to contain the damage at a late-night dinner with Biden.

Nonetheless, Biden issued a harshly worded statement after the dinner, saying its timing was especially troubling by coming on the eve of a new round of US mediated peace talks.

"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," Biden said.

"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," he added, warning that "unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations".

Relations between Israel and the Obama administration have been chilly precisely because of the settlement issue, and one of Biden's main goals had been to try to patch up ties. Biden is the highest-level member of the Obama administration to visit Israel.

The US, like the Palestinians and the rest of the international community, believes that Israeli settlements built on lands claimed by the Palestinians, including east Jerusalem, undermine peace prospects. 

Undivided capital

President Barack Obama has been more outspoken on the issue than his predecessors.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the plans in a statement, saying they undermine "any movement towards a viable peace process".

Netanyahu has rebuffed calls from the White House to halt all settlement activity, agreeing only to a limited freeze that does not include east Jerusalem.

Israel captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war and subsequently annexed east Jerusalem. Israel considers its east Jerusalem neighbourhoods to be part of its undivided capital, but the annexation has never been internationally recognised and the neighbourhoods are widely seen as settlements.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Efrat Orbach said the new homes would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing neighbourhood for ultra-Orthodox Jews. She noted that there is a 60-day appeals period, indicating that the decision could yet be changed.

At Tuesday's dinner, Netanyahu told Biden he was caught off guard by the ministry's announcement, a top Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the dinner was closed.

While Netanyahu considers east Jerusalem to be part of Israel, he acknowledged the timing of the announcement was poor and said he had no intention of sabotaging Biden's visit. He stressed that there are no plans to begin construction soon.

But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the move soured the negotiating climate. The two sides agreed this week to begin indirect negotiations under the mediation of US envoy George Mitchell. 

No space

Peace efforts have been stalled for 14 months, in large part because of Palestinian anger over settlement activity.

"With such an announcement, how can you build trust? This is destroying our efforts to work with Mr Mitchell," Erekat said. "It's a really disastrous situation. I hope that this will be an eye-opener for all in the international community."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai's office issued a statement saying Tuesday's decision was a procedural step in a project that has been in the works for three years. "The timing... has no connection to the US vice president's visit to Israel," it said.

Biden was scheduled to remain in the area for two more days, meeting with international Mideast envoy Tony Blair and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank on Wednesday before delivering a policy speech at Tel Aviv University on Thursday.

Biden had spent the day trying to calm Israeli concerns that Obama has been less friendly to the country than past US leaders.

Earlier in the day, Biden assured Israelis they can count on strong US backing as peace efforts finally resume. The resumption of talks, albeit indirect, is the first concrete achievement for Obama in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

The relationship between the two allies, Biden told reporters as he stood beside Netanyahu, has always been a "centrepiece of American policy".

Obama less sympathetic

"Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel," Biden said.

"The United States will always stand with those who take risks for peace," Biden said, telling Netanyahu, "you're prepared to do that".

Obama began his term with a push for Middle East peace, prodding Israel to freeze its construction of West Bank settlements that swallow up land the Palestinians want for a future state.

The insistence on a total settlement freeze is seen by many in the region to have backfired. Polls show that Israelis have largely come to see Obama as overly sympathetic to Israel's enemies, making it difficult for the administration to get Israeli public opinion behind any difficult peace moves.

Biden offered assurances that the US remained committed to Israel's security. Iran appeared to loom large in Biden's discussions with Netanyahu. "We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.

Israel has been pushing for stricter international sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear programme, and has refused to rule out a military strike if sanctions fail.

A string of top US officials in recent weeks have urged Israel to give more time for diplomatic pressure on Iran to work.

- AP
Read more on:    joe biden  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  barack obama  |  israel  |  middle east peace
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

20% off all TV Series!

Want to have a chilled day at home? Get 20% off TV series, the perfect excuse to "veg out". Shop now!

Save R700 on the Hisense LED TV Now R2499

Get the Hisense 32” HD ready LED TV for only R2499. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

As seen on TV - New book releases at only R199 each

Get mind blowing book savings on new titles. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today is a good day to combine imagination, information and creativity together. Try not to over rationalise things and rather...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.