- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The White House is hitting back at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with unusually blunt language after the Israeli leader rejected an invitation to meet with President Obama in Washington next week.

White House officials said Mr. Netanyahu had requested the face-to-face meeting with the president, and they were “surprised” to learn through press reports that he had pulled out.

“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said. “Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister’s schedule are false.”

A statement from the prime minister’s office said that Mr. Netanyahu “appreciated Obama’s willingness to meet him,” but he decided “not to go to Washington at this time, at the height of the primary election campaigns in the United States.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the episode was “simply a matter of scheduling.”

“There’s no reason to consider this a snub,” Mr. Earnest said. “We would have preferred to have heard about that [rejection] in person before hearing it in media reports. I think it’s just good manners.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have an infamously frosty relationship, marked by the White House’s anger last year when the Israeli leader lobbied Congress against the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. The two leaders last met in November.

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit would have come just ahead of the president’s scheduled trip to Cuba. Vice President Joseph R. Biden is expected to meet with Mr. Netanyahu in Israel on Wednesday during his trip to the Middle East, and the subject of U.S. military aid is likely to be on their agenda.

Mr. Biden’s arrival in Israel Tuesday was marred by terror attacks in which an American tourist was stabbed to death.

Palestinian attackers shot and stabbed a dozen policemen and civilians in separate assaults around Israel, continuing near-daily incidents that began in October and have left more than 200 Israelis and Palestinians dead. Two Israeli police officers and 10 civilians were wounded in the attacks and three Palestinian attackers were shot and killed.

A reporter said on Twitter that Mr. Biden was only a few hundred yards away from the incident in Tel Aviv in which the U.S. citizen was killed.

Ten Israelis were stabbed in the city’s Jaffa port section, Reuters reported. Five were severely wounded, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Mr. Biden is also visiting Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jordan and the West Bank.

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