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Palestinians threaten to halt peace talks

Palestinian officials are threatening to pull out of U.S.-mediated peace talks with Israel before the negotiations even start because of a new Israeli housing construction plan.

Plan to build 1,600 new Israeli homes at centre of dispute

Palestinian officials are threatening to pull out of U.S.-mediated peace talks with Israel before the negotiations even start because of a new Israeli housing construction plan.

The two sides agreed on Monday to resume indirect talks through a U.S. mediator. But the Palestinians say Israel's new plan — announced Tuesday — to build 1,600 new homes in disputed east Jerusalem makes it difficult to return to the negotiating table.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold a joint news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday. ((Ammar Awad/Reuters))

In a bid to calm the diplomatic row between the two countries, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden opened a high-profile speech in Israel on Thursday with warm words of praise for the Jewish state.

The vice-president told the audience at Tel Aviv University on Thursday the U.S. has "no better friend" than Israel. He also spoke about his long connection to Israel.

Earlier this week, Biden condemned Israel's plan, saying it undermined trust in peace efforts.

Israel has apologized for embarrassing Biden but has not backed down from the construction plan.

Biden is in Israel to help restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have asked Washington to press Israel to cancel the construction plan, said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Palestinians are waiting for an American answer before deciding on whether to resume negotiations, he said.

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