The Prime Minister’s Office dismissed as “unacceptable and wrong” an uncharacteristically sharp public criticism of Israel’s legal standards leveled Monday by US envoy Dan Shapiro, who said there seems at times to be one standard of law in the West Bank for Israelis, and another for Palestinians.
“As Israel’s devoted friend and its most stalwart partner, we believe that Israel must develop stronger and more credible responses to questions about the rule of law in the West Bank,” Shapiro said during an address at the annual Institute for Strategic Studies Conference in Tel Aviv.
Noting that the recent indictments in the Duma murders “are an important demonstration of Israel’s commitment to prosecute acts of terrorism, regardless of their source,” Shapiro added, however, “too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities.”
“Too much vigilantism goes unchecked, and at times there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one for Israelis, and another for Palestinians,” he asserted.
Shapiro’s comments came as part of some “critical questions” that he said needed to be asked of both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Prime Minister’s Office quickly issued a sharp response, saying that these words – coming on a day when Israel buried a mother of six killed in a terrorist attack, and as a pregnant woman was stabbed – “were unacceptable and wrong.”
“Israel enforces the law against Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement said. “The Palestinian Authority, which continues to incite and refuses to negotiate, is responsible for the freeze in negotiations.”
Shapiro, who during his address unequivocally condemned the terrorism, said the US was “concerned and perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements.”
“This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed support for a negotiated two-state solution,” he said, noting that such a solution would involve “mutual recognition, separation and security arrangements.”
Yet, he continued, “Separation will become more and more difficult if Israel plans to continue to expand the footprint of settlements.”
He said that despite earlier pledges made to the US, settlement outposts are being legalized, and there are “routine administrative demolitions of Palestinian structures.”
Shapiro said the question the US is posing is a simple one: “What is Israel’s strategy?” Stressing that settlements “can never be an excuse for violence, never,” the ambassador said, “Continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.”
Shapiro said that another issue of concern was land use in Area C – the 60% of West Bank land that is under Israel’s control and “is effectively restricted for Palestinian development.”
This restrictive land-use policy “raises important questions that must be confronted,” he said.
“Hovering over all these questions is the larger one about Israel’s political strategy vis-a-vis its conflict with the Palestinians,” he said. “What is Israel’s plan for resolving the conflict, for remaining a Jewish and democratic state? And if it judges a political solution to be out of reach for the time being, then what is its plan for managing and stabilizing the conflict in the short and medium term?” In addition, he asked, “What tools can Israel provide us to assist us in our global diplomatic defense of Israel, to which we will always be committed?” Shapiro said that the US was also asking “tough questions” of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.
These questions, he said, had to do with “murderous incitement,” withholding recognition of Israel, threats by the Palestinian Authority to end security cooperation, support for terrorist groups and “misuse of the UN system.”
“How do these tendencies serve their own people, or build confidence among Israelis that there is a partner, or help achieve their aspirations for independence and a two-state solution?” he asked.
Shapiro said he raised these questions to “rebut any claim that we are one-sided in putting tough questions only before Israel. [The US has] been relentless and crystal clear in condemning terrorism and incitement, and we have been equally relentless in exercising our role in international fora – including in the Security Council – to ensure that Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend its citizens are not impinged,” he said.