Israeli minister apologizes for bad timing of East Jerusalem expansion plan

09:56, March 11, 2010      

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Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai Wednesday apologized for the raging storm generated by his ministry's approval for 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, saying that he had no intention to embarrass visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

In an interview with local Israel Radio, Yishai said he was not informed beforehand of the decision, announced Tuesday night by the ministry's district committee, and that the matter was only a routine and technical procedure of the building plan which has been in the works for over three years.

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

Meanwhile, the right-wing minister stressed that the problem is the timing, not the substance of the decision, which he said he did not plan to cancel since the government's ongoing settlement construction restraint does not apply to Jerusalem, including Arab- dominated East Jerusalem, where Israel has unilaterally annexed after the 1967 Middle East war while the Palestinians claim it to be the capital of their future state.

The announcement drew swift condemnation from the Palestinians and the international community, and was widely seen as a slap in the face at Biden, who had just held warm talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Tuesday and urged both sides to seize the opportunity of newly-renewed indirect talks and make bold strides toward lasting peace.

"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," Biden said in a condemnation statement, while urging the parties to "build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them."

The expansion plan also clouded Biden's talks with Palestinians leaders on Wednesday, who warned that the Israeli move was provocative and liable to torpedo the indirect parley even before it started.

Visiting U.S. special envoy George Mitchell on Monday officially announced that the two Mideast foes had agreed to enter indirect talks under U.S. mediation, in a development that ended a 15-month hiatus since Israel launched a devastating military campaign against the Gaza Strip in late 2008.

Yet the Palestinians, who reluctantly accepted the U.S. proposal, stressed that no direct talks are possible before Israel totally freezes Jewish construction both in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Source: Xinhua
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