US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday appeared to condemn Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not speaking out against terror attacks.
His comments, delivered in Jerusalem, came minutes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Abbas’s political group had not only failed to condemn but had in fact praised a terrorist who killed an American citizen in Jaffa in a stabbing spree Tuesday evening.
“Let me say in no uncertain terms: The United States of America condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts. This cannot become an accepted modus operandi,” Biden said during a press conference alongside Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This cannot be viewed by civilized leaders as an appropriate way in which to behave,” he continued. “It is just not tolerable in the 21st century. They’re targeting innocent civilians, mothers, pregnant women, teenagers, grandfathers, American citizens.
“There can be no justification for this hateful violence and the United States stands firmly behind Israel when it defends itself as we are defending ourselves at this moment as well.”
He said that his wife, Jill, and two grandchildren were dining on the beach in Tel Aviv Tuesday night, “not very far from where” the attack took place.
“I don’t know how exactly whether it was 100 meters or 1,000 meters,” Biden continued, “but it just brings home that it can happen, it can happen anywhere, at any time.”
Biden, who was meeting with Shimon Peres at the Peres Center in Jaffa as the attack unfolded nearby, argued that the only way forward for Israelis and Palestinians would have to be a two-state solution, and said he encouraged “all sides to take steps to move back toward the path to peace – not easy – and for the sake of Israel, and I might add, for the sake of the Palestinians in the region.”
The attack in Jaffa was the third serious incident in the span of a few hours, coming on the heels of a stabbing in Petah Tikva and a shooting in Jerusalem.
The Hamas terror group released a statement praising the attacks as “heroic operations” and saying they prove that the wave of violence that began in October has not ended.
“Hamas celebrates the martyrs that have ascended through these operations, and confirms that their pure blood will, God willing, be the fuel for escalating the intifada,” the group wrote on its website.
Twenty-nine Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October. Some 180 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.
Speaking before Biden, Netanyahu sent condolences to the family of Taylor Force, the US citizen who was killed in the attack. Force was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Joe, I appreciate your strong condemnations of terrorism. Nothing justifies these attacks,” Netanyahu told the vice president. “But unfortunately, President Abbas has not only refused to condemn these terrorist attacks. His Fatah party actually praised the murder of this American citizen as a Palestinian martyr and a hero.”
“Now, this is wrong,” Netanyahu continued. “And this failure to condemn terrorism should be condemned itself by everybody in the international community.”
Netanyahu said Israel had taken “many steps” to counter the Palestinian terror threat in recent months and would step up its efforts after Tuesday, one of the bloodiest days in a wave of violence that flared in October 2015.
“I believe that to fight terror, all civilized societies must stand together,” he said. “And while Israel has many partners in this decisive battle, we have no better partner than the United States of America.”
Netanyahu went on to criticize “persistent incitement in Palestinian society,” which he said “glorifies murders of innocent people and calls for a Palestinian state not to live in peace with Israel but to replace Israel.”
During a cordial, 20-minute appearance before reporters, Biden and Netanyahu reminisced about their decade-long friendship. Biden recalled how he first met Netanyahu and later told him, as a joke, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you. And the joke was, I would have been a member of the Labor Party, not the Likud party. We were joking about what party we’d be in if we [were to run for Knesset].”
He also noted that the two children of his deceased son, Beau, were with him in Israel, and mentioned that their grandmother is Jewish. “Because I want them to see, they’re not too young to understand all of what you talked about, that this is a commitment that is deeper than security.”
Biden later met with President Reuven Rivlin, where he declared that the current wave of violence cannot be ended with force alone. “Israelis and visitors to Israel cannot go on being afraid to go about their lives for fear of being attacked. The violence has to stop, period…It cannot and will not be done just by physical force,” Biden told Rivlin.
Rivlin said the attacks would not break Israel’s spirit and dedication to democracy. “To my sorrow, Israel has faced this kind of terror nearly every day over the past year. Israel will continue to stand firm in the face of this violence and hatred. Terror will not break us, and it will not shape our future,” Rivlin said.
Raoul Wootliff and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.