Two years ago, after the European Union introduced guidelines to begin labeling products that originated in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a friend complained that the Europeans, ever so eager to chide the Jewish state, were overlooking the far more serious and overtly aggressive occupation in Crimea, which Russia had annexed the year before. The truth, of course, was radically different: austere sanctions had been imposed on Russia and Crimean products. Far from being merely labeled, such imports were actually banned.
I can’t blame my friend for this misapprehension. At the time, she may have been ignorant of year-old developments in the conflict in Ukraine, but she was also working off a standard script that oftentimes proves distressingly accurate: Israel is regularly singled out for actions, from potentially serious violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention to all sorts of peccadilloes, in international forums such as UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council.
It’s tempting, then, to superimpose this tendency onto more reputable critics of Israel. But this is not only mistaken with regard to intent and proportionality; it also overlooks the double standards from which Israel reaps enormous benefit, double standards that are arguably much more significant and valuable than the symbolic ones that grant succor to the Palestinians.
To take an example from last week: the Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly, and with the support of party dignitaries like Gideon Sa’ar, to call on the Likud-led government to annex the West Bank and accelerate construction of settlements there. Thus the central governing body of Israel’s ruling and erstwhile liberal-national party expressed its preference to put the kibosh on the two-state solution.
This development surely surprised no one who has followed the internal politics of Likud over the last few years. Its activist base and party apparatchiks have moved far to the right, and the party’s leading politicians have responded by currying favor.
Indeed, this dynamic played out recently on a similar issue. In an interview with Ha’aretz in October, then-coalition chairman and Likud MK David Bitan, who recently resigned from his leadership position amid corruption allegations stemming from his days as Mayor of Rishon Letzion, candidly admitted the reason he had maneuvered to block a vote on a bill that would have advanced the annexation of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement outside Jerusalem: “I pulled the bill off the legislative agenda because all the Likud ministers were afraid of the party’s right-wing members.”
In other words, the bill stood a good chance of actually passing. If the leadership forced MKs to vote no, which would be no easy task in itself, those votes would be remembered come primary season. The end result is a Likud Party that effectively rejects the two-state solution.
This is not the first time in recent years that Likud has played fast and loose with the two-state solution. Days before the 2015 election, Netanyahu famously promised right-wing voters that he would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
One does not need an extensive imagination to conceive of the American response to Fatah or the Palestinians taking a similar stand on “the whole of Palestine.” Examining the responses – some federally mandated – to unilateral Palestinian moves toward recognition on the pre-1967 lines would be constructive enough. Last month, Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to cut aid to UNRWA if the Palestinians did not return to American-led negotiations, which they believe (with ample justification, following recent U.S. policy changes on Jerusalem) strongly favor Israeli interests.
Thus, one-sided opprobrium is hardly restricted to the United Nations or the EU. R. Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official and professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, shrewdly tweeted, “Irony of Trump threatening to cut aid to Palestinians—it is Bibi’s government that supports a one state solution in clear opposition to long-standing U.S. policy.”
Israel benefits from a double standard in which its leaders have far more latitude in rejecting the two-state solution to satisfy the most extreme voters. In the same way Palestinians can often rely on international institutions to ignore problems such as incitement and payments to the families of terrorists, Israel can trust its Western allies to ultimately grant it the benefit of the doubt on its support for the two-state solution, regardless of what its leaders or policies suggest.
It would be a mistake to conclude that this is a result of the Trump administration’s new posture, most clearly expressed in the statements of Nikki Haley, the American permanent representative to the UN. Despite criticizing West Bank settlement construction and warning of the two-state solution’s perpetually impending demise, as well as audibly voicing frustration toward Israel, the Obama administration never took Netanyahu’s worldview at face value, and certainly did not act like they did. If they had, there would have been little point to any diplomatic efforts that were not completely aimed at replacing Netanyahu. Instead, the administration launched two serious efforts (2009-2011 and 2013-2014) to reach a two-state agreement. Had the negotiations to reach a nuclear deal with Iran hit a dead end, it’s possible a third attempt would have been made after Netanyahu’s reelection in 2015.
To be clear, U.S. leadership of the peace process arguably benefits both sides: the close American alliance with Israel also means American leverage over Israel, which is one reason among many why Israel will not likely ever go through with annexation. However, it would defy decades of history, not to mention tens-of-billions of dollars in military aid, to suggest Israel has no built-in advantage over the Palestinians in American-led negotiations, including political support in Congress that often dwarfs the automatic majority the Palestinians have in the UN General Assembly in both scale and impact. If presented with the opportunity, I believe Israel would decline to trade this for an automatic majority in any UN body, whereas the Palestinians would gladly swap Geneva for Washington.
Granted, the issue of hypocrisy rings louder at the UN. The United States is ultimately pursuing its interests, which can change with transfers of power from one administration to another (as Israel has learned with regard to Iran). The U.S. is a country, not an international organization committed to the principles of world peace and global human flourishing. But even on this score, Israel’s situation has dramatically improved since the Cold War and, later, the infamous first Durban Conference. To now condemn resolutions that could’ve been written by Thomas Friedman in the same language that was used to denounce, say, Idi Amin’s calls from the podium of the General Assembly to expel Israel from the body, is simply senseless and self-discrediting. Daniel Patrick Moynihan indeed eloquently opposed an anti-Semitic resolution that baselessly grouped Zionism among the most destructive and hateful ideologies in the world; Nikki Haley, by contrast, confronted a feeble disapproval of President Trump’s abrupt policy change on Jerusalem.
It’s time to acknowledge reality. Double standards, sometimes known in sports as a “home field advantage,” are hardly new or worthy of the outrage they inspire. When it comes to Israel, they come in the form of lopsided condemnations and disproportionate focus from the unpaid special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council. But when compared to the advantages of Israel’s obviously superior status vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the United States, and indeed even in Europe, it’s hard to believe Israel and her supporters actually want to live in a world free of double standards.