Israel Embarrasses Vice President Biden, Sparks Rebuke From U.S.

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This appears to be the diplomatic equivalent of an ambush. Vice President Biden, on a visit to Israel, spent the day talking up the close relationship between Israel and the United States.

“Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel,” Biden said. “The United States will always stand with those who take risks for peace,” Biden said, telling [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, “you’re prepared to do that.”

Then Israel, playing not-quite gracious host, announced the construction of 1,600 new homes for Jews in the disputed territories of East Jerusalem, a move that kicks sand in the face of Obama Administration requests to stop such settlement expansion. The press pool following Biden reports that the Vice President showed up 90 minutes late for dinner with Netanyahu, and that reporters were wondering if he would show up at all.

In the briefing room, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the timing of the announcement was not helpful. Biden, who has not taken questions from the press today, then put out his own statement:

I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. 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. This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.