Israel plans more settlements

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Israel announced plans for new Jewish settlements in mostly-Arab East Jerusalem. This despite US pressure not to build more settlements, and Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel. Anchor Marco Werman finds out more from the BBC's Jonathan Donnison in Gaza City.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in the Middle East this week. He hopes to reignite the dormant peace process. The Vice President met today with Israeli leaders. Israeli cabinet members met as well and later the cabinet announced the construction of 1,600 new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem. The White House condemned the move. Israeli officials called it merely procedural. The United States has repeatedly asked Israel to stop building in the occupied territories. The BBC's West Bank and Gaza correspondent is Jon Donnison. Jon, first let's talk about the timing of this announcement. Why now?

JON DONNISON: Well I think that's the question that many Americans in the government, and also certainly many Palestinians, will be asking. We heard today from Vice President Biden that there was an unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, but I imagine this might have put a bit of strain on it because on the face of it, it looks pretty embarrassing for the United States when just hours, literally hours, after they talked about moving forward in U.S. mediated negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israeli government comes out and does something which really will infuriate many Palestinians. We've already had some reactions from the Palestinian authority. That is the government of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. On the West Bank we had a spokesman for that government saying this is a dangerous decision and will hinder negotiations. We consider the decision to build in East Jerusalem to be a judgment that the American efforts have failed before the negotiations have even begun. So you can see that that really take quite a lot of the shine off some of the spin we were getting from Vice President Biden and also the American government earlier today.

WERMAN: Will this look to the Palestinians like the Americans have supported this?

DONNISON: Yeah, there will be people who say well look; can the Israelis actually have done this without the Americans' prior knowledge? And I think many people will see it, as I say, as really the Israelis getting one over, not only on the Palestinians, but also on the United States. Certainly that is the case if indeed America didn't know about it before it happened.

WERMAN: Does anybody suspect that this is going to derail the plan to restart the peace process?

DONNISON: Absolutely. And as I mentioned earlier, we have the statement from the government of Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank saying look, this is scuppering the negotiations before they've even begun and these are just really talks about talks. These are indirect talks. It's not Palestinians and Israelis even sitting down at the same table. Its U.S. mediated talks between the two and I think many people will say that yeah, it could jeopardize even that getting off the ground. We've got Vice President Biden on Wednesday he's going to be visiting the West Bank and he's going to be talking with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and I imagine it's going to be a little bit of an awkward meeting because he is probably going to be asked did you know this was going to happen? Did you know that on the very day that you were visiting that Israel was going to announce some 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem? And I should say that really the elephant in the room of all these discussions really is Gaza, which is where I'm sitting now. Gaza is excluded from all these talks. It is controlled by Hamas who are the Islamist movement and the great rivals of Fatah the secular movement which is the party of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and they're excluded from those talks. Of course they're not recognized by the United States or Israel and yet really it's hard to see how there can be any kind of real progress when Palestinians are not even talking to each other. We've not actually got any unity between the two great Palestinian factions. And until that happens, there are many people who are going to be really very skeptical that we can really see any great progress forward until we get any unity on the Palestinian side.

WERMAN: The BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza. Thank you very much Jon.

DONNISON: My pleasure.