We’re all familiar with the complaints about Israel being held to a higher standard than others in its use of force against its enemies. Almost all of the complaints are justified, but not always for the reason people think.
Among the unjustified complaints are those that equate Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians with China’s to the Tibetans, Spain’s to the Basques, Turkey’s to the Kurds, etc. The problem with the comparisons is that — as far as I know — the latter peoples are citizens of the former’s countries. Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel. So while I’m confident that Israel treats Palestinians more humanely than other countries treat their separatist minorities, direct comparisons aren’t generally available. Frankly, there are so many wrong things said about Israel that we can, and for tactical reasons probably should, ignore the ones that require some thought and limit ourselves to attacking the most egregious offenders.
Like, for instance, the recent State Department fiasco, wherein Matt Lee of the Associated Press got State’s Mark Toner all flustered by pointing out that the US military had just done something that State had called “disgraceful” when Israel did the same last summer, saying explicitly that — in Israel’s case — the military objective was no excuse for the civilian casualties. In America’s case Toner was, of course, unwilling to say anything of the sort. This is part of a genre of Western countries holding Israel’s military to a higher standard than they hold their own. It’s an anti-Israel double-standard and the democracies, the only countries to whom shame is relevant, should be ashamed to use it; if they’re not, we should shame them.
But the locus classicus of the anti-Israel double-standard is the unequal demands made on Israel and its neighbors, and here’s where there’s a general misunderstanding of the problem. The problem isn’t the double standard. It makes perfect sense to expect Israel to behave vastly better than most societies and military organizations, and Hamas, the PA, Saudi Arabia, etc. are closer to the bottom of our expectations than to the top.
No, the problem is that the West recognizes that Israel is a reasonable, moral, peace-loving country (as evidenced by the standard to which it’s held), but insists that it negotiate with the Arabs as if they were too. It’s okay to say that Israel killing Palestinian civilians is “man bites dog” and Palestinians killing Israeli civilians (or Saudis killing Yemeni civilians) is “dog bites man”, but to then say that Israel should take the PA’s word for anything, or make concrete concessions in exchange for promises and signatures — in short, to assume any sort of good faith on the part of the Arabs, or assume that the West will effectively guarantee compliance — is absurd. Today especially, when it’s hard (even if not impossible) to deny that ceding Gaza was a bad gamble and that ceding the Golan would have been the same, we should be discouraged from banging our heads against that same wall again.
I recently discussed this with a friend, Michael Eisenberg, who coined the felicitous term “Asymmetric Diplomacy”. That’s what we’ve got here, and rather than constantly pointing out to the democratic world that it should demand better behavior from the Arabs, we should encourage it to apply its certainty that the Arabs are going to behave badly to its thinking about how to deal with the Israeli/Arab conflict.