US Vice President Joe Biden condemned Tuesday’s Jaffa terrorist attack that occurred just a short distance away from where he sat in a meeting with former president Shimon Peres.
Biden had been in the country for less than an hour when a Palestinian on a stabbing rampage killed an American tourist and wounded 12 others.
His office later said that Biden “condemned in the strongest possible terms the brutal attack.”
During the meeting with Peres, “he expressed his sorrow at the tragic loss of American life and offered his condolences to the family of the American citizen murdered in the attack, as well as his wishes for a full and quick recovery for the wounded. The leaders also discussed ways to deepen US-Israeli collaboration on research to combat cancer,” Biden’s office added.
A source close to Peres said that the attack occurred just four minutes into the off-camera meeting with Biden.
Biden in Israel
Peres received a report of the attack and shared the information with Biden, the source said.
“The reality here, unfortunately, is that terrorism has become part of life,” said the source, adding that Biden told Peres that “nothing justifies the murder of innocent people.”
During their public greetings at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, Biden told reporters, “We have absolute total unvarnished commitment to the security of Israel, I hope we can make some progress.”
Two other terrorist attacks – one in Jerusalem and another in Petah Tikva – occurred around the time that Biden’s plane landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Biden’s two-day visit comes amid a minor row with Washington over Netanyahu’s cancellation of a meeting with US President Barack Obama and reports in The Wall Street Journal that the White House is mulling a plan to revive the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel and the US are also at odds over future defense funding for Israel. The two countries are negotiating the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding under which Israel annually receives defense funding from the US.
The MOU is likely to be part of the conversation between Biden and Netanyahu when the two meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday. But the focus is likely to be on other issues, such as Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Biden will also meet with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.
Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that the PA leadership was waiting to hear from Biden about whether the report of a renewed peace drive was true. Majdalani called on the US Administration to lay out its vision of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the end of Obama’s term in office.
A PA official in Ramallah said that in his meeting with Biden, Abbas would renew his call for holding an international conference for peace in the Middle East.
The trip is Biden’s third to Israel since he became vice president in 2009. He came to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2014. His 2010 trip was marred by controversy over the announcement of building plans for the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
Tensions flared between the White House and Jerusalem after the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Monday that Netanyahu was not traveling to Washington at the end of the month and would therefore not be able to meet with Obama.
Netanyahu had considered the trip so he could address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The White House claimed it had agreed to a meeting between the two leaders at Netanyahu’s request and learned of its cancellation through the media.
The Prime Minister’s Office said its ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, had already informed the White House on Friday that Netanyahu might decide not to go. Dermer explained to US officials that a final decision on the matter would likely be taken on Monday.
White House officials said Obama had already penciled in a meeting with Netanyahu on March 18. They expressed disappointment in his decision to cancel the meeting, and referred The Jerusalem Post to the government of Israel for an explanation of the schedule change.
“Last Friday, during a meeting at the White House, Ambassador Dermer expressed the prime minister’s appreciation for the president’s willingness to meet the PM if he came to Washington to attend AIPAC’s Policy Conference,” the prime minister’s office said on Monday night.
“However, the ambassador also informed the White House that there is a good chance that the prime minister would not be coming to Washington and that a final decision would be taken on Monday after he had met with the prime minister.”
Dermer also informed a senior AIPAC official last week that Netanyahu’s trip was unlikely, the statement reads.
“On Monday, news reports suggested that [Netanyahu] would not be traveling to Washington and erroneously stated that the President was unwilling to meet with [him],” it continued.
“The [Prime Minister’s Office] immediately corrected the erroneous news reports and officially informed the administration that the PM would not be coming to Washington.”
Netanyahu looks forward to meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently traveling the region, the statement added.
Officials in the PMO blamed the cancellation on the pending US elections.
They said Netanyahu believed he would come into contact with the presidential candidates at AIPAC and that any contact with them could be seen as interference in the US elections.Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.