Joe Biden seeks to boost peace talks in Israel, settlements notwithstanding
US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Monday after Israelis and Palestinians agreed to restart peace talks. But the issue of Israel settlements came to the fore again, with 112 new housing units announced for the West Bank.
US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel Monday, marking a new phase of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for the Obama administration. For the first time in more than a year, Israelis and Palestinians will resume peace talks, albeit via a US mediator.Skip to next paragraph
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But just a day after US envoy George Mitchell got Palestinians to drop their demands for a full settlement freeze as a precondition to peace talks, Israel authorized 112 new housing units in the West Bank. Israel had promised a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction -- excluding occupied East Jerusalem.
But its announcement Monday of the West Bank settlement construction, a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would drop his objection to indirect talks over the fresh construction in East Jerusalem, underscored the settlement issue’s thorny role in US attempts at progress over the past year.
“Joe Biden’s visit ushers in the second act of the Obama administration on the peace process, after having failed entirely on the first act,” says Gidi Grinstein, a member of the Israeli negotiations team at the Camp David peace talks in 2000. “The Obama administration has done a lot to earn the suspicion of Israelis.... Biden is faced with an uphill journey.”
The Associated Press quoted lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as saying Israel's new settlement move could derail talks again. "If the Israeli government wants to sabotage Mitchell's efforts by taking such steps, let's talk to Mitchell about maybe not doing this (indirect talks) if the price is so high," Erekat said.
Mr. Grinstein said that the administration’s decision to publicly confront Israel on settlement expansion helped spur the worst diplomatic rift between the two allies in a generation. Now, only 42 percent of Israelis believe Obama supports their country and half believe he’s weak on terrorism, according to a poll commissioned by the New America Foundation.
On top of anger over Obama's earlier call for a settlement freeze, Israel is also seeking to push the US to take a tougher stance towards Iran and its nuclear program.
A key concern of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is that Western efforts won’t end Iran's nuclear program, leaving Israel to face the Islamic Republic on its own. Biden is expected to assure Israelis of US backing on Iran when he delivers an address at Tel Aviv University on Thursday.