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The Resumption of Talks (and settlement construction): #2

10 Mar

I am sure someone in the Israeli Interior Ministry must be having a laugh

Yesterday I wrote how on the very eve of the relaunch of the tentative peace process the Israeli government decided to show its implicit contempt for the whole process by announcing the construction of 112 (illegal) apartments in a settlement in the West Bank. This not only went against the US demand for restraint from provocative statement or actions, but also Israel’s own 10-month building freeze in the West Bank.

Well obviously the politicians at the Interior Ministry were disappointed that their initial construction plans had failed to cause the necessary furore, as today they approved a further 1,600 new homes in an ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighbourhood. In their defence Israel deems East Jerusalem as part of “mainland” Israel, and thereby construction there does not infringe upon the West Bank. However, in the eyes of the world and more importantly the Palestinians, East Jerusalem is an integral part of part of the West Bank and the indisputable capital of its future state.

Needless to say this time around the people at the Interior Ministry got the furore they had wanted. Not least from US Vice President Joe Biden, who landed in Israel yesterday and who’s motorcade has been clogging up the streets of Jerusalem all day as he sped from side of town to the other meeting Presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians and the like.

“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.

Source: Haaretz, Biden: East Jerusalem plan undermines peace talks, 09/03/2010

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