It was meant to be the latest stage of his efforts to relaunch the peace process. But the thorny topic of Israeli settlement building has overshadowed talks between US Vice President Joe Biden and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Behind the smiles, the Palestinian President is furious at Israel’s plan to build 1,600 more homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.
Palestinians say the construction at Ramat Shlomo could kill any chance of reviving peace talks. They and Israel have just agreed to restart indirect negotiations 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.
Biden has condemned the project. After it was made public, the US Vice President kept Netanyahu and his wife waiting for 90 minutes at a dinner they were hosting.
Aides to Netanyahu say he was caught off-guard by the announcement of the project by the Interior Ministry, run by an ultra-orthodox nationalist party in his governing coalition. But the Israeli Prime Minister took no steps to reverse the decision.