Israel’s decision to approve 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood is undermining Middle East peace talks, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, the Interior Ministry approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, with a ministry official saying the plan will expand the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood to the east and to the south.
“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said.
The American vice president added that 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.”
“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden said adding that the “announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict,” Biden said.
“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”
Biden also said that the U.S. believed “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,’” Biden said.
The Palestinian Authority had also remarked on the announced plan Tuesday , saying that it ended efforts to renew negotiations with Israel.
The statement approving the 1,600 new houses, released by the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem district planning committee, headed by Ruth Yosef, said that at least 30 percent of the units will be allocated to young couples.
Public facilities and spaces which were, the statement said, lacking in the existing parts of the neighborhood, are also to be added as part of the new plan, including a new central park.