US President Barack Obama dispatched his deputy Joe Biden on an official visit to Jerusalem in March 2010, hoping to achieve a breakthrough in the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians. A few months earlier, Israel had declared a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, but negotiations were stalled. Biden, considered a veteran and proven Israel supporter, was supposed to nudge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a series of goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians in order to cajole them back to the table.
As the visit began, Biden stopped for a solemn tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a customary stop for all official state guests. At the same time, the district planning commission announced approval for the construction of some 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem. Although Jerusalem had not been included in the settlement freeze, the timing of the announcement even as Biden was bowing his head in memory of 6 million murdered Jews was perceived as a punch in his face.