US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on Monday responded to criticism of his charge last week that Israel appears to institute “two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians” in the West Bank.
He apologized for the timing of his comments, which came a day after a Palestinian teenager killed a Jewish mother of six in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, and on the day that a pregnant woman was stabbed in another Palestinian attack in the Tekoa settlement. But he stood by the content of his remarks.
In back-to-back interviews with Israel Radio and Army Radio, Shapiro said he was “somewhat surprised by the noise” his comments had generated. “The issues I raised aren’t new; most of the issues I talked about weren’t heard in the noise.
“I emphasized in my speech that the first thing that must be done is to end the terror. Palestinians must understand that there’s no way Israelis will be able to see them as a partner for peace while there are car-rammings and attacks,” he said in reference to a wave of terrorism that has been sweeping across Israel and the West Bank since October.
But, he added, “We also understand that we’re in a period that isn’t likely to produce negotiations for the near future. So we’re looking for ways to advance peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and also to preserve the possibility to reach two states in the future.”
While Israelis doubt Palestinian intentions due to terrorism, Palestinians have reason to doubt as well, Shapiro suggested.
“While there’s no [peace] process, no possibility for talks, no diplomatic horizon, while settlements are growing, and violence is sometimes directed against Palestinians by [Jewish] extremists, those things also create doubt” about the two-state solution, he said.
Shapiro’s original comments, delivered a week earlier at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv, charged that “too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities; too much vigilantism goes unchecked; and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.”
Shapiro went on to describe the US administration as “concerned and perplexed” by Israel’s settlement policy, which he said raised “honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.”
“This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed support for a negotiated settlement that would involve mutual recognition and separation,” he said. “Yet separation will become more and more difficult” if Israel continues to expand settlements, Shapiro added.
The speech was met with a harsh response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which also chafed at the timing of the remarks.
“The words of the ambassador, on a day in which a murdered mother of six is buried and on a day in which a pregnant woman is stabbed — are unacceptable and incorrect,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read. “Israel enforces the law for Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is the one responsible for the diplomatic freeze, and continues to incite and refuse talks.”
On Monday, Shapiro called his earlier comment about unequal legal standards “one or two lines that caused disagreement.”
He told Army Radio that the timing of his comments was unintentional. He had spoken with the Meir family in the days since his original comments, he said, and if his words caused the victims’ families pain, “God forbid, of course I regret that.”
He also noted that in his comments a week earlier, “I condemned the terror attacks in Otniel and Tekoa. I called on Palestinian leaders to condemn and prevent violence and terror and to end incitement. And I praised Israeli security services for the arrests” of Jewish terror suspects.
“I emphasized in my talk, and emphasize now, that the top priority is to stop violence and terror. Clearly, incitement leads to terror, and we have called every day on [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] and the [Palestinian] Authority generally to stop [incitement]. Israelis have not just the right but the duty to defend themselves.”
But, he added, “I also spoke about our fears. We see the failure of negotiations. We are moving away from the possibility for two states. We understand that we’re in a period where negotiations are not on the horizon. So we ask that steps be taken that advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and ensure the two-state option is possible in the future.”