JERUSALEM – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a two-day visit that includes meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as Palestinians unleashed a wave of attacks that killed an American tourist near where Biden was visiting and wounded a dozen Israelis.
The American man, who was not identified by name, was killed in a stabbing spree in the port city of Jaffa in which a Palestinian attacker also wounded six Israelis before he was shot and killed by Israeli forces.
The attack took place as Biden was meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
It was the latest bloodshed in more than five months of near-daily Palestinian assaults on civilians and security forces that show no sign of abating. Along with the Jaffa assailant, three other Palestinian attackers in Tuesday’s assaults were shot and killed by Israeli security forces.
“I notified the vice-president on the terrible incident that took place just a few hundred meters away from here in Jaffa,” Peres said. “Terror leads to nowhere neither to Arabs nor to us,” Peres said standing next to Biden.
“The majority of the people know there is no alternative to the two state solution … and we shall follow with all our strength and dedication to make from it a new reality,” Peres added.
Just ahead of the visit, Israel disputed a White House claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “surprised” the Obama administration by cancelling a planned visit to Washington, saying that the White House knew Netanyahu was considering not coming.
Netanyahu had been expected to visit later in March on a trip coinciding with a major pro-Israel group’s annual summit, but his office said he would not travel because he did not wish to come at the height of U.S. presidential primaries.
The spat comes amid tense relations with President Barack Obama in the last year of his presidency.
The White House said Israel had proposed two dates for a meeting between the leaders and the U.S. had offered to meet on one of those days. “We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council. “We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.”
But Netanyahu’s office said Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. had already informed the White House last week there was a “good chance” Netanyahu would not make the trip.
It said the ambassador told the White House there would be a final decision on Monday. That day, Israeli news reports erroneously reported that Netanyahu would not travel because he was unwilling to meet with Obama. Netanyahu’s office said it then informed the White House directly that Netanyahu would not be visiting.
Netanyahu was invited to address a summit of the staunchly pro-Israel group AIPAC. An Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said Netanyahu wanted to avoid potential meetings with presidential candidates at the summit. Netanyahu was accused of siding with Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign and he appears wary of sparking any additional claims of meddling in American politics.
“It’s a tumultuous primary season in the United States … we don’t want to inject ourselves into that tumultuous process,” the official said.
Later, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there was no reason to consider Netanyahu’s cancellation “a snub.” But he said the White House would have preferred to hear that he would not visit in person rather than through media reports.
Still, it was the latest signal of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and its closest Mideast ally. Relations between Israel and the U.S. never fully recovered after Obama incensed Netanyahu’s government by pursuing and then agreeing to a nuclear deal with Iran.
Biden’s last visit to Israel in 2010 was also marked by a diplomatic spat with Washington, when Israel announced settlement construction plans during his visit.
Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday the prime minister is, “looking forward to the visit of Biden and discussing how we can meet the many challenges facing the region.”
Biden is not expected to offer any new initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israel or during his meetings in the West Bank.
Since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed effort two years ago, Obama’s aides have repeatedly cast doubt on prospects for a successful restart of the peace process during Obama’s final months in office. In advance of Biden’s trip, the White House said it didn’t believe either the Israelis or the Palestinians currently have the political will to renew the peace process.
The White House declined to speculate Tuesday about one possibility that has emerged: a U.N. resolution setting parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to make it easier for Obama’s successor to pursue.
But a senior Obama administration official said the U.S. would consider options in the future that would advance a two-state solution but still prefers Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a resolution. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.
Israel rejects an imposed formula and says any outline of a peace accord has to be reached through direct negotiations.
Associated Press Writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.