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Israel/Palestine

Biden "appreciates" Israeli response to settlement crisis

Photo: Reuters

US Vice-President Joe Biden told Israeli students that there must be sacrifice on both sides in the Middle East after Tuesday’s Israeli announcement that 1,600 more settler homes will be built in East Jerusalem.The declaration damaged hopes of revitalising Middle East peace talks.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Biden at 11.30am and both agreed the crisis was over, according to an official from the PM’s office.

"I don’t really understand exactly what is meant by that, because I haven’t heard any announcement that the plans for the additional houses have been cancelled. And that’s really the only way to end the crisis with the United States," Galia Golan from the Hebrew University told RFI.

Biden added that he “appreciates” the Israeli response to the row in a speech at Tel Aviv University.

“Sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truths,” he told the student audience, declaring that settlement building undermines the peace process and that the two-state solution is the only solution.

But he indicated that Netanyahu's response had satisfied concerns over the settlement plans by promising to establish a process to avoid a repetition of the crisis and declaring that "the beginning of actual construction will likely take several years".

"That's significant because it gives negotiators the time to resolve this as well as other outstanding issues," Biden said.

"The issue isn’t the timing, it’s most unfortunate, but the issue is the building itself", said Golan, who also teaches at the Lauder school in Herzliya. "There are plans for even more building in east Jerusalem," she added.

Earlier, Palestinian leaders announced that they will not negotiate with Israel unless the settlement decision is reversed.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas told the Arab League Secretary Amr Mussa that he was waiting for US Middle East envoy George Mitchell “to give us the answer that the decision has been cancelled”, according to Saeb Erakat, a top Palestinian negotiator.

On Wednesday a top Israeli official described the settlement announcement as a mistake.

“This announcement during the visit of Mr Biden was a mistake. It has led to failure and this should not happen again,” cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser said.

"I think they will continue to issue statements against it, but the greater interest on the part of the Americans is to have these proximity talks start anyway," said Golan.

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