Biden Visit to Israel Marred by Palestinian Attacksby
American tourist slain in Tel Aviv; 2 police shot in Jerusalem
Netanyahu-Obama feud simmers as White House meeting scrapped
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank got off to a rough start as a string of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks killed an American tourist near a Tel Aviv beach and badly wounded two police officers and a civilian in Jerusalem.
The violence began shortly before Biden landed on Tuesday and continued on Wednesday, hours before he was to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. A new diplomatic row between Israel and the U.S. also arose ahead of the vice president’s arrival, after the Israeli government announced it had canceled Netanyahu’s planned meeting with President Barack Obama without first informing the White House.
Biden’s visit is intended in part to assess prospects for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, whose breakdown is seen by Palestinian leaders and some Israeli officials as fueling the past six months of violence. The death toll has climbed to more than 30 Israelis and several foreigners and about 190 Palestinians, most of them assailants. Biden’s first stop from the airport was at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, about a mile from where the fatal stabbing occurred.
The tourist killed on Tuesday was identified by the U.S. State Department as Taylor Allen Force. “There is no justification for such acts of terror,” Biden said on his Twitter account. John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, said that “we continue to encourage all parties to take affirmative steps to reduce tensions and restore calm. ”
Police, in their statement, said the attacks on Tuesday didn’t appear to be linked and added that Biden’s visit “might have been a trigger.”
Arriving in a motorcade under tight security, the vice president opened his visit by meeting Shimon Peres, Israel’s 92-year-old former president. On the agenda for Biden and his Israeli hosts was discussion of Israel’s request to increase the amount of military aid it gets from the U.S., now about $3.1 billion a year.
The Obama administration issued a statement Monday expressing surprise that officials learned about the cancellation of Netanyahu’s meeting through the media without formal notice from the Israeli prime minister. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that U.S. officials would have preferred to learn of the cancellation directly from the Israeli government.
“I’m merely suggesting if they weren’t able to make the meeting they should have told us before they told a reporter,” Earnest said at a briefing. “Our preference would have been to handle it privately.”
Netanyahu’s administration chalked up the episode to a mix-up.
“On Monday night, media reports said Netanyahu would not travel to Washington and asserted wrongly that President Obama was not willing to meet” with the Israeli leader, Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday. “The prime minister’s office hastened to correct the report and inform the U.S. government officially that Prime Minister Netanyahu would not go to Washington.”
Netanyahu was considering speaking at the annual Washington meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 20-22, a trip he’s made in the past in tandem with White House visits.
Appearing at the Aipac conference could have put Netanyahu in the awkward position of meeting some of the candidates in the U.S. presidential race, after criticism that he supported Republican Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, a senior Israeli government official said. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and requested anonymity.
Obama declined to meet with Netanyahu last year when the Israeli leader went to Washington to address Congress on Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which he opposed. Obama cited the Israeli election at the time, saying it would be inappropriate to meet only Netanyahu while he was campaigning against other candidates for a fourth term.