JERUSALEM, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Israeli leaders were critical of observations U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro made earlier this week that laws in the West Bank are applied differently to Palestinians and Israelis.
Shapiro spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in a meeting pointedly described by the U.S. embassy as not an official summoning of a foreign ambassador to come before a head of state. The public row is over comments Shapiro made in a speech to the annual conference of the Institute for National Securities Studies in Tel Aviv.
"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 said, setting off the public furor.
Netanyahu called Shapiro's observations "unacceptable and wrong," although they could be interpreted as applicable. Palestinians in the West Bank live under military occupation and answer to Israeli police. Accused lawbreakers are tried in Israeli military tribunals and can be held years without charges, while Israeli settlers in the West Bank are tried in Israeli civil courts.
The diplomatic skirmish comes as settlements for Israelis continue to be built in the West Bank, contrary to treaties and the recommendations of the European Union, a major trading partner with Israel.
"Settler outposts are being legalized, despite earlier pledges to the United States not to do so, while routine, administrative demolition of Palestinian structures continues," Shapiro said. "Again, the question we ask is a simple one: What is Israel's strategy? Settlements can never be an excuse for violence -- never, as Secretary [of State John] Kerry says repeatedly. But continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel's long-term intentions."