Europe backs Biden's criticism of Jewish settlement plans

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The Independent Online

Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, yesterday repeated his attack on Israel's plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in Arab East Jerusalem as European governments backed his complaint that they undermined trust before imminent new indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Standing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Mr Biden pointedly re-emphasised earlier US calls on both sides in the conflict to refrain from actions "that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks". He added: "It's incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations, and not to complicate them."

Israel's Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, who heads the department which made the announcement on Tuesday, was contrite about the timing, but not the substance of the proposal. "We had no intention, no desire, to offend or taunt an important man like the Vice-President during his visit," Mr Yishai told Israel Radio. "I am very sorry for the embarrassment ... Next time we need to take timing into account."

The lack – so far – of any public suggestion that the proposal would be abandoned came despite an unusually strong statement on Tuesday night when Mr Biden expressed anger at its substance and timing. He stressed the importance of Jerusalem to both Israelis and Palestinians and said he hoped for an outcome that could realise the aspirations of both sides for the city. He also made clear that the Americans would be actively involved in the forthcoming "proximity talks" and that the Palestinians deserved a "viable and contiguous" Palestinian state – diplomatic code for one which would need large-scale withdrawals of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Germany said the proposal for new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo East Jerusalem settlement was not "acceptable". David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, condemned the move as a bad decision at the wrong time.