Biden toughens criticism of Israel settlement plan

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Biden toughens criticism of Israel settlement plan

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United in condemning Israel’s latest settlement moves, US Vice-President Joe Biden and Mahmoud Abbas have met in Ramallah.

The Palestinian President urged Israel to ditch plans to build 1,600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem. His visitor said peace was at stake.

Standing side by side with Abbas, Biden told a news conference: “It is incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations.”

He went on: “The decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermined that very trust that we need right now in order to begin, as well as produce, a profitable negotiation.”

While regret over the timing has been expressed by some in Israel, others were making no apologies.

Israeli cabinet minister Yuli Edelstein said: “I hope that everyone who wants to reach peace understands that any Israeli government, not just the present one, the previous one and the following ones, will still believe that Jerusalem is the united capital of the state of Israel, a wonderful home for Jews, Arabs, men of different religions but still the capital of Israel.”

Palestinians say the construction at Ramat Shlomo could scupper any chance of reviving the peace process. They and Israel have just agreed to restart indirect talks through American mediation.

Under US pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended new building in the West Bank. But his ruling does not apply to areas Israel considers part of Jerusalem’s municipality.