As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements
Published: March 9, 2010"JERUSALEM — Hours after Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed unyielding American support for Israel’s security here on Tuesday, Israel’s interior ministry announced 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, prompting Mr. Biden to condemn the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearly embarrassed at the move by his interior minister, Eli Yishai, head of the right-wing Shas party who has made Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem one of his central causes.
A statement issued in the name of the Interior Ministry but distributed by the prime minister’s office said the housing plan was three years in the making and that its announcement was procedural and unrelated to Mr. Biden’s visit. It added that Mr. Netanyahu had just been informed of it himself.
Mr. Netanyahu supports Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem yet wants to get new talks with the Palestinians going and to maintain strong relations with Washington. But when he formed his coalition a year ago he joined forces with several right-wing parties, and has since found it hard to keep them in line.
Mr. Biden came to Jerusalem largely to assure the Israelis of Washington’s commitment to its security and to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
He began the day on a note of support, asserting the Obama administration’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”
But by the end of the day, Mr. Biden’s tone had a very different quality. He issued a statement condemning “the substance and timing of the announcement” of the housing, and adding: “Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues.” He said the announcement “runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”
On Monday, George J. Mitchell, the administration’s Middle East envoy announced that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to four months of indirect peace talks, the first such negotiations in more than a year.
Nabil Abu-Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian government, called the new housing announcement “a dangerous decision that will torpedo the negotiations and sentence the American efforts to complete failure.” He added that “it is now clear that the Israeli government is not interested in negotiating nor is it interested in peace. The American administration must respond to this provocation with actual measures, as it is no longer possible to just turn the other cheek, and massive American pressure is required in order to compel Israel to abandon its peace destroying behavior.”
Last spring, the Obama administration tried to get Israel to stop all settlement building in order to get peace talks going again and hoped Arab states would promise confidence building measures in exchange. No such measures were forthcoming and the Israelis rejected the freeze."
Finish up here while I go calm down: