- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s arrival in Israel for high-level talks Tuesday was marred by a series of terrorist attacks, while the White House insisted that President Obama wasn’t offended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turning down an invitation to meet in Washington next week.

Mr. Biden arrived in Tel Aviv just as an American tourist was stabbed to death several hundred yards away. A Palestinian attacker stabbed a dozen policemen and civilians, continuing near-daily incidents that began in October and have left more than 200 Israelis and Palestinians dead.

The American was later identified as Taylor Force, 28, a West Point graduate and a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan who was in Israel as part of a student trip sponsored by Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, in a letter notifying students, faculty and staff, called the incident a “horrific act of violence” but provided no details.

Two Israeli police officers and 10 civilians were wounded in the attacks in the city’s Jaffa port section, and at least one Palestinian attacker was shot and killed.

The attacks came less than a mile from where Mr. Biden was meeting with former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Peres Center for Peace. At one point during the meeting, one of Mr. Peres’ aides entered the room and informed Mr. Peres about the attacks, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Mr. Biden, who one of the participants in the meeting described as being outraged, asked for all the details. He said that the American government would publish a harsh condemnation of the attack, the paper said.

Later, Mr. Biden released an official condemnation: “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal attack which occurred in Jaffa. There is no justification for such acts of terror,” he said.

Part of Mr. Biden’s mission is to smooth over the latest bump in relations between the Obama White House and Mr. Netanyahu after a public falling out over the Iran nuclear deal last year. Mr. Biden will meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss military aid, a session that comes on the heels of the prime minister canceling a trip to Washington.

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. The White House hit back at Mr. Netanyahu with unusually blunt language. 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,” said National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price. “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 decided “not to go to Washington at this time, at the height of the primary election campaigns in the United States.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit would have come just ahead of the president’s scheduled trip to Cuba.

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

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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