That the Obama administration has forfeited the trust of Israelis is not news. After seven years of picking fights with their government over consensus issues like Jerusalem, the 1967 borders and then embracing détente with Iran, the growing divide between the two allies is not in dispute. Having come into office seeking to create greater daylight between the U.S. and Israel, President Obama has gone further toward achieving that dubious goal than even many of his critics might have thought possible in January 2009. But with the Iran deal now a fait accompli and the Palestinian Authority having squandered all of the advantages Obama tried to give them by attacking the Netanyahu government one might think that relations have sunk about as low as they can go. Since, thanks to Palestinian intransigence, even the administration seems to concede that the peace Obama once thought he would achieve is not possible, what possible purpose would more American attacks on Israel serve?
There’s no ready answer to that question, but the latest contretemps between the administration and the Jewish state highlights a problem that goes deeper than the personal dislike between Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu or even the president’s disappointment at being denied the opportunity to cut the Gordian Knot of Middle East peace. Far from being just a harmless spat, the latest irritant in the fractious relationship between Israel and the United States is actually an example of how Western governments don’t merely bungle the peace process but blunder into statements that actively create incentives for Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
The problem stems from a speech given Monday by Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. By blasting Israel’s government for employing “double standards” in justice in the West Bank, Shapiro was wading into dangerous territory. Asserting that Israel doesn’t punish attacks on Arabs the way they do those against Jews, Shapiro was not only making an argument that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. He was also promoting an invidious moral equivalence between the two sides in the conflict that ultimately serves to encourage Palestinians to think they are justified in carrying out random attacks on any Jew within reach.
Part of the reason for the hostile reaction to Shapiro’s speech was bad timing. Though the meme that Israel lets Jewish settlers in the West Bank get away with murder is a popular one on the left, it is a lot harder to make that argument in the wake of the draconian methods employed by Netanyahu’s government to track down the murderers in an arson attack on an Arab village last summer. Though the assailants were part of an isolated fringe group whose sympathizers many only number a few hundred and active participants are far fewer than that, Israeli security services not only arrested them but treated them with the same tough measures employed against Arab terror suspects. That included being held without charges or access to lawyers. Some of those caught up in the investigation even claimed they were tortured and saw no irony in complaining about practices that they applaud when used against Palestinian suspects.
Shapiro’s speech was also ill-timed because he gave it on the same day Dafna Meir, a 40-year-old Jewish mother of six, was buried. She was stabbed to death while defending her children from a Palestinian terrorist that burst into their home in a settlement near Hebron. But, of course, Meir is just the latest victim in a murder campaign being carried out by Palestinians in what is being called the “stabbing intifada.” Though Shapiro duly condemned the murder of Meir, the problem is that he seemed to be treating allegations of minor violence by settlers as being essentially the same thing as the daily attempts to slaughter Jews that has been happening for months.
The point is, even if we accept that there are occasions when a tiny minority of settlers misbehave, the notion that such incidents are somehow similar to the murderous terrorism of the Palestinians doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And while nothing excuses extralegal violence, the fact that the settlements have been besieged by such attacks puts the anger of some of their inhabitants in perspective.
Moreover, as Shapiro knows, though all of Israeli society — from right to left — has condemned the few instances of Jewish terrorism, the Palestinian Authority that the Obama administration continues to laud as a force for peace has done the opposite. The PA official media treat murderers of Jews, whether in settlements like Otniel where Meir was killed or in Tel Aviv cafes as was the case with a New Year’s day shooting that took three lives, as heroes. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has praised those Palestinians that have attacked Jews as martyrs and condemned Israelis for defending themselves against them.
If Shapiro and his boss in Washington were serious about advancing the cause of peace, the U.S. would be concentrating its rhetorical fire now on a Palestinian political culture and leadership that doesn’t merely repeatedly say “no” to peace offers but praises terrorism. But instead of that sensible course, the administration is stuck in that same 2009 mindset whereby Obama imagined that by distancing himself from Israel, he might earn the trust of the Arab and Muslim worlds. While that effort was risible from the outset, there is no longer any excuse for continued efforts to downgrade the alliance between the two nations. More importantly, it is long past the point when the U.S. should stop treating terror against Jews, even if some are settlers, as understandable if not praiseworthy. That’s the message Shapiro is sending to Palestinians when he wrongly characterizes the situation as one in which both Jews and Arabs are equally to blame.
The price of that folly is, as it has been from the outset, been paid in the blood of victims of terror at the hands of Palestinians that think they are acting on behalf of the just cause of ridding the country of its Jewish population. Unwarranted criticisms such as those of Shapiro don’t merely fall on deaf ears inside Israel. They undermine any rationale for moderation on the part of the Palestinians and tell the world that the U.S. no longer stands by its allies. That the administration persists in such folly after seven years speaks volumes about the damaging role it has played in making the Middle East a more dangerous place.