Biden arrives in Israel in shadow of terror wave, PM-Obama meeting row
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Biden arrives in Israel in shadow of terror wave, PM-Obama meeting row

American vice president set to hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during two-day trip

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

US Vice President Joe Biden landed in Israel early Tuesday evening to begin a two-day visit for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders.

Biden and his wife Jill were greeted by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro at Ben Gurion Airport before making their way to Jaffa for a meeting with former president Shimon Peres at the Peres Center for Peace.

At about the same time, a terror stabbing spree took place in the streets of Jaffa. One person was killed and some 10 people were wounded, and the attacker was shot dead.

Earlier Tuesday, two terror attacks took place, one in Petah Tikva and another in Jerusalem, where Biden was scheduled to arrive later in the day.

US Vice President Joe Biden is welcomed to Israel by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on March 8, 2016 at Ben Gurion Airport (Courtesy: Defense Ministry)
US Vice President Joe Biden is welcomed to Israel by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on March 8, 2016 at Ben Gurion Airport (Courtesy: Defense Ministry)

On Wednesday Biden will confer with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and then meet current President Reuven Rivlin before moving on to Ramallah to see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will leave on Thursday for Jordan.

US Vice President Joe Biden arrives at Ben-Gurion airport, March 8, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
US Vice President Joe Biden arrives at Ben-Gurion airport, March 8, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Police said major roads would be closed and security boosted as Biden traveled around the area.

The trip will include talks in Israel on US economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria, the White House said.

Central to the discussions are expected to be the finalizing of a new 10-year defense aid package, which Israeli officials are looking to boost beyond the $3.1 billion it currently receives annually.

Talks will also include discussions on neighboring Syria and fighting terror. Biden, who has been involved in American efforts to smooth out relations with Turkey, may also discuss detente efforts between Ankara and Jerusalem.

The US has said Biden will not be making a new peace push during his trip, but his talks are expected to cover a new French initiative, and there were reports Tuesday that the White House may yet make another bid to galvanize progress in the final months of the Obama administration.

The vice president’s arrival comes hours after the White House expressed public “surprise” that the Israeli prime minister had rejected an offer to meet with US President Barack Obama later this month, and said it only learned Netanyahu was canceling his trip to the United States from the media.

In a sign of yet another round of tension between the Israeli and American leaderships, the administration also publicly rejected earlier Israeli reports that the White House had been unable to schedule a time for the meeting as “false.”

The tiff, punctuated by pointed statements from both Washington and Jerusalem, threatened to once again ruffle feathers in the often-testy relationship between Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration.

Netanyahu’s office said it had informed the White House last week that the trip would likely not go forward. A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel key issues could be discussed with Biden instead.

“The thinking is that we’re seeing Biden this week and the assumption is that in the discussion with Biden all the issues will come up,” the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Joe Biden, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Joe Biden, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash 90)

Biden’s visit to Israel will be his second diplomatic visit since a trip in 2010 was marred by the announcement of a major Israeli building project over the pre-1967 lines in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. The US opposes Israeli building over the pre-1967 Green Line.

According to a diplomatic cable leaked last month, the episode sparked a rift between Jerusalem and Washington, with Netanyahu then asking European leaders to help patch up ties with Obama.

On Monday, Biden kicked off his Middle East trip with a visit to Abu Dhabi, where he vowed that the United States and its allies would destroy and “squeeze the heart” of the Islamic State group.

US Vice President Joe Biden visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, March 7, 2016. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)
US Vice President Joe Biden visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, March 7, 2016. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

Stuart Winer, Raphael Ahren, AFP and AP contributed to this report.

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