In Israel, Biden condemns settlements

Vice President Joe Biden condemned Israel today for expanding settlements in East Jerusalem, a rebuke that comes in the middle of the VP's visit to the country.

"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said in a statement. "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."

The timing for the settlement expansion could not be more awkward for Biden, who is visiting Israel as part of a tour through the Middle East. The Vice President had announced earlier today that there was "absolutely no space between the United States and Israel in terms of Israel's security."

Biden met with both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu today as part of the Obama administration's to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Biden said in his statement that expanding settlements can only harm chances for successful negotiations:

We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them. This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict. The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims and Christians.  We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.  Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues.  As George Mitchell said in announcing the proximity talks, "we encourage the parties and all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks."

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