Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Israelis get an earful from Biden
If Tuesday's announcement of new East Jerusalem housing sparked such outrage from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, imagine what he's going to say when he finds out the eastern half of the city is already part of Israel and has been for more than 40 years. Biden was sharply critical of Israel following the announcement on Wednesday, saying the move would "inflame tensions" with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future West Bank state, according to the Reuters international news service. It may be news to all of them, but Israel has been in control of East Jerusalem since 1967, when its soldiers drove Jordan from the West Bank in yet another war started by Israel's Arab neighbors. Jews had been prevented from entering the historic old city after Israel's founding in 1948, even though East Jerusalem contains sites sacred to Jews and Muslims since before the birth of Christ. But Israel agreed to negotiate the future of Jerusalem with the Palestinian Authority in 1993, and considered the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the Palestinian's capital in 2001. A lot has changed since then, including the election of a conservative government in Israel that opposes territorial concessions. Tuesday's announcement of 1,600 new units in East Jerusalem sparked the expected outrage from Arab nations but the United States' criticism apparently surprised Israeli leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered a partial freeze of West Bank settlement construction last year in an effort to encourage the Palestinian Authority to return to negotiations over a future Palestinian state in the area, but specifically excluded East Jerusalem. "It is incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations and not to complicate them," Biden said Wednesday in a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. "Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust, the trust that we need right now in order to begin ... profitable negotiations." Abbas urged Israel to cancel its housing plans, Reuters said. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also condemned Israel's decision after giving a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., Reuters said.