In the midst of a high-profile trip by Vice President Joe Biden, Israel unveiled plans for new housing in disputed Jerusalem on Tuesday, a surprise step that embarrassed and angered the highest ranking Obama administration official yet to visit the country.
Biden, who had come to try to smooth relations with a longtime ally and promote new peace talks, denounced Israel's plans to build 1,600 housing units in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem as a threat to the search for peace.
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said, calling it "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now."
"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," Biden said.
The sharp turn of events abruptly changed the tenor of the trip in its second day, coming just hours after the vice president proclaimed his love for Israel and declared enduring U.S. support.
Biden's visit followed a year of tension brought on by Israel's defiance of the Obama administration's admonitions on precisely the same issue: housing settlements in disputed areas.