Israel apologizes as Biden meets Palestinians


JERUSALEM (JTA) — As U.S. Vice President Joe Biden again denounced the plan for new Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem after meeting with Palestinian leaders, Israel’s interior minister apologized for the timing of the plan’s approval.

Eli Yishai apologized Wednesday during an interview on Israel Radio "for the distress this matter caused." 

He was referring to the announcement Tuesday by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee that it had authorized the construction of 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood north of downtown Jerusalem. The committee is jointly run by the Interior Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality.

"If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone," Yishai said. "It is definitely unpleasant that this happened during Biden’s visit."

Yishai said he did not plan to cancel the approval of the plan.  

Jerusalem is not part of the 10-month West Bank construction freeze set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late November. 

Biden met Wednesday in Ramallah with Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

During a news conference with Abbas, Biden spoke out against the new construction approval, as he had a day earlier.

"It’s incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations and not to complicate them," he said.

"We call on Israel to cancel these decisions," Abbas said. "I call on the Israeli government not to lose a chance to make peace. I call on them to halt settlement building and to stop imposing facts on the ground, and to give the efforts of the Obama administration and Senator Mitchell the chance to succeed."

Fayyad thanked Biden for his "strong statement of condemnation."

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