Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai officially apologized for the "distress caused" to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden by the announcement of new settlement construction plans during Biden's March 9, 2010 visit to Israel, according to TIME.
Biden had spent much of the day assuring of the closeness and unity of relations and goals between Israel and the United States, saying that Israel had Washington's unconditional support and mentioned plans to make the U.S. an intermediary in "indirect" peace talks.
Meanwhile, Israel's Interior Ministry announced it would build 1,600 new homes for settlers in East Jerusalem.
Biden expressed displeasure, Israel apologizes...
Biden said the timing of the settlement announcement was an embarrassment to his and his government's credibility in the Mideast peace process. He expressed his immediate displeasure by making Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wait for him to arrive 90 minutes late at a formal state dinner, a major insult in diplomatic terms, according to TIME.
Yishai said the timing of the announcement was no more than a coincidence and was not meant to take advantage of the U.S. visit or support.
"If I'd have known," said Yishai, "I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two, since we had no intention of provoking anyone."
Israel will go through with settlement construction plans
Yishai did not, however, apologize or retract the plans to construct the new settlement housing. Israel's government, particularly with Netanyahu at its helm, has been uncompromising about its settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Despite international pressure, the Israelis have continued to claim the right to expand existing settlements, if not build new outposts, in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Biden said the Israeli declaration "undermined the trust we need right now" to resume peace talks that have been stalled in part due to Israel's recalcitrance.
Palestinians frustrated, angry over Israel's settlement policy
The Palestinians also condemned the Israeli announcement, citing it as evidence that Israel will not be willing to come to the negotiating table ready to compromise.
Israel's actions and policies towards the occupied Palestinian territories have been a major stumbling block for the peace process, with settlement expansions being a primary issue for Palestinian negotiators. In 2009, the Netanyahu government declared that a freeze on settlement construction permits would be lifted and legal housing units for settlers could begin again.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem form the bulk of territory Israel occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War, but neither the Palestinians nor the greater international community support the legality of Israel's claims to those areas.
Jerusalem's importance for future peace talks
In particular, the Palestinians and their supporters amongst the Arab states demand the return to Palestinian control of East Jerusalem. No Palestinian or Arab leader would be able to survive politically if they accepted Israeli control over the whole of Jerusalem.
Israeli moves to expand and solidify its grip on East Jerusalem and other existing settlement areas in the West Bank may hamper the peace efforts. Furthermore, the Biden-settlement debacle was only the most recent indicator of tension between the U.S. and Israeli governments.