U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is wrapping up a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, calling for both sides to resume negotiations, which the Palestinians say may not take place as a result of Israel's decision to approve more construction on disputed lands.
Vice President Joe Biden told an audience at Tel Aviv University the United States remains deeply committed to Israel's security, saying the United States has no better friend than the Jewish state.
He said it is now in the best interest of Israelis to make a serious attempt to make peace with the Palestinians. "It is very hard to be a beacon for others, when you are constantly at war. To end this historic conflict, both sides must be historically bold, because if each waits stubbornly for the other to act first, this will go on and be waiting for an eternity," said Biden.
Despite U.S. demands for Israel to stop or restrain construction of Jewish housing in disputed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, during the Biden visit Israeli officials announced their approval of construction of 1,600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem.
Israel said it did not intend to embarrass Biden, the highest-ranking Obama administration official to visit the region.
Biden condemned the announcement, saying it undermines the trust needed to restart negotiations, which have broken off for more than a year. He repeated that condemnation in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to the West Bank.
In his speech to Israelis, Biden's tone was conciliatory. "Some of you legitimately may have been surprised that such a strong supporter of Israel, for the last 37 years and beyond, but 37 years as an elected official, how I can speak out so strongly, given the ties that I share as well as my country shares with Israel. But quite frankly, folks, sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth," he said.
The Palestinians have threatened to cancel indirect negotiations, which they agreed to only a few days ago. Palestinian officials said their decision hinges on whether Israel rescinds its plans to go ahead with more construction on lands that Palestinians claim as their own.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat spoke on Palestinian radio, calling for Biden and the Obama administration to sway the Israelis.
Mr. Erekat said if the United States is condemning the decision then it should work to get the decision canceled. He said Palestinians are waiting for the Americans to cancel that decision because it will be difficult to see the process restarting with this kind of action in place.