Palestinians threaten to quit talks over settlements

US Vice-President Joe Biden battles to keep both sides at the negotiating table

US Vice President Joe Biden was last night struggling to keep freshly announced Middle East negotiations on track despite a threat by the Palestinians not to participate unless Israel reverses its latest settlement expansion plans for East Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned the Vice President in a telephone call that Israel would need to abandon its plan to build 1,600 new homes for ultra-orthodox Jews in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in the Arab eastern sector of the city, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters.

Mr Biden sought, in a major speech at Tel Aviv University later, to put the row with Israel behind him while urging an early beginning to "proximity" or indirect talks. "The most important thing is for these talks to go forward and go forward promptly and go forward in good faith," Mr Biden said.

While not resiling from his earlier condemnation of the plan, the Vice President described as "significant" an earlier official statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had rebuked his Interior Minister Eli Yishai over the timing of the announcement – which caused serious embarrassment at the outset of Mr Biden's visit.

The Vice President pointed out that Mr Netanyahu had said the construction of "this particular project" would take "several years" and that meant "it gives negotiations the time to resolve this and other outstanding issues".

In a speech which emphasised the "deep friendship and kinship" with Israel felt by President Obama and himself, Mr Biden explained his condemnation: "Quite frankly, folks, sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth." He also went out of his way to reassure Israel's leaders that the US is "determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

The Palestinians' chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who had warned that the Palestinians wanted the abandonment of the Ramat Shlomo plan before talks could go ahead, said after Mr Biden's speech that he did not want "any quarrel with the Americans at this stage". But he added: "The problem is not with the timing, but the settlements. The Americans should help us in getting this order revoked."

With Israeli newspapers speculating that further building projects involving 7,000 to 50,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem were in various stages of conception, there was no sign that Israel intends to halt the Ramat Shlomo plan. While the international community recognises Palestinian aspirations for East Jerusalem – which Israel unilaterally annexed after the 1967 Six Day War – as the capital of a future Palestinian state, the Netanyhau government has set its face against a division of the city.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser told Israel Radio: "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and construction there will be carried out like in Tel Aviv or any other city – in every part of Jerusalem."

*Hamas yesterday released a British journalist they had held for a month amid allegations that he endangered the Palestinian territory's security. A smiling Paul Martin gave a thumbs-up after Hamas handed him over to British diplomats who drove him out of Gaza.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an experie...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Manager Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Recruitment Genius: Canteen Assistants Required

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities & Operational Administrator

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum