U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel for a two-day visit as Palestinian assailants killed an American tourist near the Tel Aviv beach and shot two police officers in Jerusalem.
The violence, which included a stabbing incident in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petach Tikva, left more than a dozen Israelis injured and the three Palestinian attackers dead, police said in text messages to reporters. A fresh diplomatic row between Israel and the U.S. also arose as Biden arrived, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced it had canceled a planned meeting with President Barack Obama without first informing the White House.
It was a rough start to Biden’s visit, which was intended in part to assess the prospects for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Biden’s first stop from the airport was at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, about a mile south of where the fatal stabbing occurred. Israeli police said in a statement that the victim was a U.S. citizen but didn’t provide identification.
Arriving in a motorcade under tight security, the vice president opened his visit by meeting Shimon Peres, Israel’s 92- year-old former president, noting the “terror incidents” nearby. He was to meet with Netanyahu later. Also on the agenda for Biden and his 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 Committeeon 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.
--With assistance from Toluse Olorunnipa.
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