Israel's announcement that new housing units will be built in disputed East Jerusalem was unhelpful toward making progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, the US State Department said Monday.
"These kinds of announcements aren't helpful," spokesman Sean McCormack said. (dpa)
The Israeli Housing Ministry said Sunday that it will expand construction in East Jerusalem, bringing the total of planned units to 750.
The announcement drew condemnation from Palestinian leaders. Lead negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was an "outrageous" and "provocative action by Israel that demonstrates its intention of further strengthening its illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Washington Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for talks on how to move forward in the struggling Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that the US has brokered since a November peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
" US policy on this is well known, and we have said that it is important to do everything possible to make the atmosphere for Annapolis as good as possible," Rice said of the settlement expansion of East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, the White House said Monday Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to the Middle East and Turkey later this month to ratchet up the US effort to broker a peace.
Cheney's trip to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey begins on March 16. During meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Cheney will remind them of their obligations under the roadmap peace plan.
"His goal is to reassure people that the United States is committed to a vision of peace in the Middle East, that we expect relevant parties to uphold their obligations on the road map," President George W Bush said.
Bush's goal of reaching a Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the time he leaves office in January has been endangered by some of the most intense violence in years between the Israeli military and Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
"This is a part of the world where people have heard promises before, and they've been vague promises," Bush said, urging an end to the violence. "Now, they've got a president and an administration willing to work for two states, two democracies, side by side in peace."