The U.S. ambassador to Israel on Monday publicly suggested that the Netanyahu government is not genuinely committed to a two-state solution and that Israel holds Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank to separate legal standards. Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu was not pleased.
“First, for Israel, we are concerned and perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements,” U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro said at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed their support for a negotiated two-state solution — a solution that would involve both mutual recognition and separation … Yet separation will become more and more difficult if Israel plans to continue to expand the footprint of settlements.”
Shapiro went on to criticize Israel’s legal regime in those settlements. “Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked,” he said. “There is a lack of thorough investigations … at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank — one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.”
It seems that way because it is that way. Israelis in the West Bank are governed by Israeli civil law, while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, which offers defendants far fewer legal protections. Beyond discrepancies in the letter of the law, there is considerable evidence of disparities in enforcement.
The Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din told the Associated Press that Shapiro’s comments were supported by their data. Out of 1,104 investigations opened following Palestinian complaints of ideologically motivated violence over the past decade, Israeli police pursued indictments against suspects in just 75 of those cases. (Israel recently passed a highly irregular “NGO Transparency bill” that many in the West interpreted as an attempt to stigmatize human-rights groups like Yesh Din.)
The Netanyahu government’s preference for settlement expansion over the two-state solution is similarly supported by overwhelming evidence. Under internationally recognized parameters, a two-state solution would require Israel to turn over much of the West Bank to a future Palestine. The more Israelis live on settlements in the West Bank, the greater the political resistance to making such a concession. As Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes, Shapiro’s comments come two weeks after the U.S. State Department said that it was “deeply concerned” over the approval of a new settlement inside a West Bank church compound. While Netanyahu claims to support the two-state solution when facing westward, during his campaign for reelection last March, he promised supporters that “there will be no Palestinian state” under his watch.
Still, it is unusual for a U.S. diplomat to invoke these realities so bluntly. Shapiro’s willingness to do so now may reflect the Obama administration’s growing insensitivity to political risks as its tenure draws to a close. While the U.S. remains unwilling to punish Israeli settlement expansion with actions — the reduction of aid, the withholding of America’s U.N. veto on measures damaging to Israel — it now appears comfortable asserting its opposition to Israeli policy through harsh public criticism.
Netanyahu called the U.S. ambassador’s recitation of unflattering facts “unacceptable,” particularly during a time of heightened Palestinian terrorism.
“The ambassador’s comments, on a day when a mother of six is being buried and a pregnant woman is stabbed, are unacceptable and untrue,” Netanyahu said. “Israel enforces the law on Israelis and Palestinians. The one responsible for the diplomatic stalemate is the Palestinian Authority, which continues to incite and refuses to negotiate.”
On Sunday, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli woman to death in a West Bank settlement. Over the past four months, Palestinian attacks have taken the lives of 25 Israelis and an American student, while the Israeli military has killed at least 146 Palestinians. Israel says 101 of the Palestinian dead were attackers; the others were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.
Despite the two countries’ fractious relationship of late, the U.S. plans to increase aid to Israel by more than $1 billion in 2016.