ABC News’ Karen Travers and Simon McGregor-Wood report:
Vice President Joe Biden issued a strongly worded statement tonight condemning Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new settlement homes in the disputed area of east Jerusalem just as efforts got underway to kickstart Middle East peace talks.
“"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said from Jerusalem in a statement released by his office. “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.”
Earlier today Biden said he was pleased that the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to resume indirect peace talks after a 14-month lapse but tonight urged all sides to “build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.”
Biden is traveling through the region this week, the highest-level visit to Israel by an Obama Administration official.
Today the vice president met today with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said he hoped that the revived peace talks would be a “vehicle” that would begin “to allay that layer of mistrust that has built over the last several years” between the two sides.
“We hope that these talks will lead, and they must lead, eventually to negotiations or direct discussions between the parties," Biden said at a news conference with Netanyahu.
In his statement released tonight Biden said the settlement announcement “underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”
Biden and Netanyahu had dinner tonight at the prime minister's residence, after Israel’s Interior Ministry announced the settlement construction plans. The vice president is expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.
-Karen Travers and Simon McGregor-Wood