U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said Wednesday the Palestinians deserve a “viable” independent state with contiguous territory, seeking to reassure them of American support after Israel announced plans to expand a Jewish neighbourhood in disputed east Jerusalem.
The Israeli move has overshadowed Biden’s visit, meant to promote a new round of U.S.-led negotiations, and drawn Palestinian accusations that Israel is not serious about peace. Israel apologized for embarrassing Biden with the timing of its announcement, but made clear it has no intention of reversing its plan.
Capping a day of meetings with Palestinian leaders, Biden told his hosts that the U.S. is committed to brokering a final peace deal — something that has eluded U.S. leaders for decades.
“The United States pledges to play an active as well as a sustainable role in these talks,” Biden said. He stressed the Palestinians deserve an independent state that is “viable and contiguous,” meaning the territory should not be broken up by Israeli settlement enclaves.
It was a clear message to Israel that the U.S. expects a broad withdrawal from the West Bank as part of the deal.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has given only conditional support for Palestinian independence and signalled that he wants to retain control of key parts of the West Bank, including Jewish settlements.
The U.S., along with the Palestinians, consider settlements built on disputed lands to be obstacles to peace.
The Israeli plan to build 1,600 new homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo was an embarrassing setback for Biden, who arrived Monday hoping to build on an agreement by both sides to resume indirect negotiations through the mediation of U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
The resumption of talks ends a 14-month deadlock and marked the Obama administration’s first substantive accomplishment in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.