‘Vigilantism goes unchecked’: US envoy criticizes Israel’s ‘2 standards of law’ for Palestinians

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a military operation in the West Bank city of Ramallah © Mohamad Torokman
The US Ambassador has accused Israel of “unchecked vigilantism” in the West Bank, where it applies “two standards of law” for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has rebuked one of America’s harshest comments, saying it was “unacceptable” and “untrue”.

Dan Shapiro was speaking at the annual meeting of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, when he made his controversial statement.

While praising Israel’s progress in the months-long investigation of high-profile arson killings in the village of Duma in the West Bank, Shapiro said, “too much (Jewish) 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.”

The US ambassador referred to the indictment of four Jewish extremists in various violent crimes against Palestinians, including the arson attack last July, which claimed a life of an 18-month old baby and his parents.

It was "an important demonstration of Israel's commitment to prosecute acts of terrorism, regardless of their source, but too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities," he said.

According to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, Shapiro based his comment on their data, which showed an 85 percent failure rate in investigating hate-crimes by Israelis against Palestinians, AP reported.

Thus, the group has said in the police's handling of 1,104 investigations opened following complaints of Palestinians, only in 75 of those cases indictments were served against suspects.

However, Shapiro’s remarks draw a stern rebuke from the Prime Minister’s Office, which denied the US envoy’s assertion.

"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," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "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."

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers largely fall under civilian rule, while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, a fact which draws pro-Palestinian activists to call out Israel for imposing a “system of apartheid.” 

Shapiro’s statement has been said to be one of the harshest US comments on Israel’s West Bank settlement policy.

In 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter openly criticized the Israeli occupation, saying that it “perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."

Carter made his remark while promoting his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid", the purpose of which, by his own account, was to “help restart peace talks” between Israel and Palestine.

Speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday, Ambassador Shapiro also stressed the necessity of the two-state solution, echoing the general US approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He pointed out that the American administration is "concerned and perplexed" by Israeli government policy on the settlements, "which raise[s] questions about Israeli intentions."

In early January, the US State Department scolded Israel following its authorizing the incorporation of a southern West Bank church compound into the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

Spokesman John Kirby called the Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon’s approval “illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

“Continued settlement activity and expansion raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make achieving a two-state solution that much more difficult,” Kirby told reporters.