Middle East

Biden meets Netanyahu in Jerusalem, criticizes Palestinians for failing to 'condemn' stabbings

Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem Wednesday.

Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem Wednesday.  (Debbie Hill, Pool via AP)

Vice President Joe Biden met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday in Jerusalem and criticized Palestinians for a "failure to condemn" a stabbing spree that killed an American student and war veteran.

In a joint news conference, both leaders spoke highly of the American victim, Taylor Force, a 28-year-old MBA student at Vanderbilt University and a West Point graduate.

"The United States of America condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts," Biden said. "The kind of violence we saw yesterday, the failure to condemn it, the rhetoric that incites that violence, the retribution that it generates, has to stop."

Biden spoke warmly of his decades-long relationship with Netanyahu, and reemphasized America's commitment to Israel's security.

The vice president is in Israel for a two-day visit as part of a longer Mideast, during which he plans to meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Biden denied reports he might try to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which critics argue the White House put on the back burner.

Biden said, "I didn't come with a plan. I just came to speak with a friend," referring to Netanyahu.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party posted a cartoon on its Twitter account of a hand holding a knife over a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and calling the Palestinian stabber from Tuesday's attack a "hero" and "martyr."

Netanyahu responded, "Nothing justifies these attacks. But unfortunately President Abbas has not only refused to condemn these terrorist attacks, his Fatah Party actually praised the murderer of this American citizen as a Palestinian martyr and a hero. Now this is wrong, and this failure to condemn terrorism should be condemned itself by everybody in the international community."

The stabbing spree took place Tuesday near the seaside city of Jaffa, where Biden was meeting nearby with Israel's former president. Biden said his wife and grandchildren were having dinner on the beach not far from the scene of the attack, which wounded a dozen Israelis, civilians and police officers.

"This is the result so long as Israel does not believe in the two-state solution and ending its occupation," a Fatah statement on Twitter read, referring to a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.

For more than five months, there has been a rash of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces. Palestinians say the violence stems from frustration at nearly five decades of Israeli rule over the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel says it is fueled by a campaign of Palestinian incitement compounded on social media sites that glorify and encourage attacks.

"Mr. Vice President should start from where the real crime is, which is the Israeli occupation and Israeli colonial settlement, because the beginning is here for those who want peace in the Middle East," an Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, told The Associated Press.

Shortly before the two leaders met in Jerusalem, two Palestinian gunmen carried out shootings in the city before police shot and killed them, Israeli police said. A Palestinian man was seriously wounded in the shootout.

The incident began when passengers on an Israeli bus spotted the two gunmen on the street and heard shots fired, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri. No injuries were reported. A motorist responded by shooting toward the suspects, who fled by car.

Police began searching for the gunmen's vehicle. When a policeman approached a car that matched the description, the gunmen raised their weapons at the officer and he fired at them. Other police units on the scene shot at the suspects, killing them, Samri said. The shootout took place on a main road alongside Jerusalem's light rail and close to the New Gate of the Old City.

A Palestinian civilian at the scene was shot in the head and is in serious but stable condition, an Israeli hospital said. Police are investigating whether he was shot by the gunmen or by police.

Police identified the two gunmen as Palestinians, both about 20 years old, from the Jerusalem area.

In the West Bank on Wednesday, a Palestinian with a knife attempted to stab Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, and soldiers shot and killed him, the Israeli military said. Also, an Israeli stabbed and lightly wounded a Palestinian in the West Bank, apparently during a business-related argument, police said. The Israeli fled the scene and police are searching for him.

The wave of near-daily Palestinian assaults on Israeli civilians and security forces erupted in mid-September and is showing no sign of abating. The bloodshed -- mainly stabbings but also shootings and car-ramming attacks -- has killed 28 Israelis. During the same time, at least 179 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Most of the Palestinians have been identified by Israel as attackers, while the rest were killed in clashes with security forces.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.