US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday sharply condemned Israel for announcing plans to build up to 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
The announcement came as Biden was in
Jerusalem and expressed optimism about resuming peace negotiations through Washington- brokered indirect, or "proximity," talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, dpa reported.
But news of the housing unit plans prompted Biden to issue a harsh statement and highlighted a rare public disagreement between the United States and Israel.
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said in the statement released by the
The Obama administration has been more vocal in criticizing Israeli settlement activity on disputed lands claimed by the Palestinians, who have vowed to stay out of peace talks until Israel places a halt on the construction. But Biden's words were the toughest so far.
"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.
"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," he said.
Biden is the highest level official in the Obama administration so far to visit Israel. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and planned travel to the West Bank.
President Barack Obama has urged Israel to stop all settlement activity, but Netanyahu has only signed off on a partial freeze that does not include Jerusalem.
The Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the future capital of their own state, which is a key goal of the peace negotiations that have not taken place for more than a year. There was hope the indirect talks would make progress, but the Palestinians warned the latest construction announcement could derail them before they even begin.
The Israeli Interior Ministry announced the new units will be built in the Ramat Schlomo section of East Jerusalem.