US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday condemned Israel's approval of 1,600 new housing units for young haredi families in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, saying that the timing of the decision undermines the peace process the United States is attempting to revive.Biden, visiting in Israel, issued a harshly worded statement criticizing the Israeli move, saying its timing was especially troubling by coming on the eve of a new round of US-mediated peace talks."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," Biden said."We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," he added, warning that "unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations."Moments earlier, US President Barack Obama's top spokesman, Robert Gibbs, condemned the announcement from the White House.In Jerusalem, the Interior Ministry stressed that the plan approved on Tuesday had "been in the works for over three years." InteriorMinister Eli Yishai's media adviser stressed that "The Committeemeeting was determined in advance and there is no connection to US VicePresident Joe Biden's visit to Israel... Yishai updated Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu on the foregoing earlier this evening."
The public has 60 days in which to formally file their opposition to the plan, a ministry spokeswoman said. InRamallah, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat also slammed themove, saying it was destroying trust needed to go forward with the newround of indirect peace talks, which the two sides agreed this weekwould take place under the mediation of US envoy George Mitchell."Withsuch an announcement, how can you build trust? This is destroying ourefforts to work with Mr. Mitchell," Erekat said. "It's a reallydisastrous situation. I hope that this will be an eye-opener for all inthe international community about the need to have the Israeligovernment stop such futile exercises."Earlier on Tuesday, Biden took pains to praise Netanyahu for steps hehas taken to make a more conducive atmosphere for talks with thePalestinians."A peace agreement will require both parties to make some historicallybold commitments," Biden said. "You have done it before, and I amconfident for world peace you will do it again."Abe Selig contributed to this report.