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Biden Meets With Palestinian Leader

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the Palestinian territories today to meet with Palestinian leaders and talk about the peace process. Over the weekend, Israelis and Palestinians announced they would soon begin indirect talks. It would be the first engagement of any kind in over a year. But all has not gone well for the vice president on this trip. Yesterday, while Biden was in Israel, the Israeli interior minister announced it has approved 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians want as the capital of their future state. The move forced Biden to criticize his hosts.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in Ramallah today, and she has this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The slap heard around the world was the headline in Israel's left-leaning daily Haaretz. Other Israeli and Palestinian papers said Israel's decision to announce the new construction has caused a crisis for the vice president, and so instead of touting the new agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to hold so-called proximity talks brokered by the U.S., Biden instead had to take Israel to task.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: It's incumbent on both parties to build an atmosphere of support for negotiations and not to complicate them. Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust. That is why I immediately condemned the action.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel's government released a statement apologizing for the timing of the announcement. In an interview with NPR, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren acknowledged that it had caused the vice president embarrassment.

Ambassador MICHAEL OREN (Israel): It was unfortunate. It was unfortunate. It was not intentional. And we would have preferred that the announcement been made at a different time, but there was no intention to insult the vice president or to disturb his visit here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It was not the timing of the announcement that the Palestinians were complaining about, rather the substance of it.

President MAHMOUD ABBAS (Palestinian Authority): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Standing next to Biden after their meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to rescind the decision. Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in the conflict here. Palestinians want Israel to freeze all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel says the city is the unified capital of the Jewish state and that construction will continue.

Publicly today, the relationship between the Americans and the Palestinians seemed warm. Aides to Abbas told reporters that the meetings today were cordial and productive. But George Giacaman, a political analyst at Birzeit University, says there is a great deal of anger towards the Obama administration among Palestinians.

Professor GEORGE GIACAMAN (Political Analyst, Birzeit University): There's no reason to believe that the position of the American administration is not more than management of conflict. So far we have seen no indication that can be called serious to push for a settlement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the U.S. strong-armed the Palestinian leadership into taking part in these indirect talks, and yesterday's announcement of new Jewish building in East Jerusalem further compromised Palestinian president Abbas.

Prof. GIACAMAN: The Palestinian Authority is strengthened or weakened in direct proportion to the achievement of political goals. The continued confiscation of personal land and building of settlements, including also in Jerusalem, directly weakens the Palestinian Authority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Palestinians are deeply pessimistic that the indirect talks will yield results in the current climate. Israelis too have voiced skepticism. One Israeli official says he foresees no substantive issues being discussed, saying there will be talks about talks.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.