By Chris Hoenig
Secretary of State John Kerry’s office is in crisis-control mode, admitting that the secretary did not use the best choice of words when he warned that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if a peace accord that creates an independent Palestinian state is not agreed upon.
In a Daily Beast exclusive, it was revealed that Kerry used the termsomething rarely ever done by senior American leadersin a private, closed-door meeting with government officials and security and political experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia and Japan.
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizensor it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” he told the group, known as the Trilateral Commission. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
On Monday, Kerry issued a statement defending the message but expressing regret at the use of the term with this particular audience. “I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution,” the statement read. “In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”
Kerry has been at the center of a U.S.sponsored attempt to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but the current round of negotiationswhich have been ongoing for the past nine monthsare doomed to near-certain failure.
“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel, I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight. As Secretary of State, I have spent countless hours working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister Livni because I believe in the kind of future that Israel not only wants, but Israel deserves,” Kerry’s statement read. “I want to see a two-state solution that results in a secure Jewish state and a prosperous Palestinian state, and I’ve actually worked for it.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is the most notable senior U.S. official to have used the term regarding the Middle East. In 2007, Carter published a book titled Palestine: Peace or Apartheid, sparking a debate of its own over the use of the word.
“Apartheid is a word that is an accurate description of what has been going on in the West Bank, and it’s based on the desire or avarice of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land,” Carter said, noting he was referring solely to the West Bank and not Israel in its entirety.
Used most commonly when referring to the systematic, legislated segregation that limited the freedoms of the majority-Black population and empowered the minority-Afrikaans in South Africa for nearly 50 years, apartheid is defined as any system that separates and segregates a population based on demographics. These include race, gender, caste, etc.
“Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said. “Israel is the lone stable democracy in the Middle East, and protects the rights of minorities regardless of ethnicity or religion.”
But Kerry has found some supporters who see the comments more as a distraction than anything else. “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road,” J Street, a pro-peace Jewish organization, said in a statement.