Israel will become an “apartheid state” if it cannot make peace with Palestine, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in remarks that have Israeli leaders furious.
In a closed-door meeting with world leaders on Friday, Kerry warned that Israel could be following in the footsteps of South Africa if there is no two-state peace solution soon. In the past, many American leaders have been careful not to make the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa, with President Obama rejecting the idea when it had been brought up in the past.
Other American leaders have made the comparison, however. In 2007, former President Jimmy Carter said in his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Carter referred to “apartheid type policies in the West Bank,” though clarified he was not accusing Israel of institutional racism.
“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.
But Kerry’s use of the loaded term in the closed door meeting has reportedly raised tensions in Israel, adding to remarks made to the Trilateral Commission in which Kerry warned that Palestine could once again resume violence against Israeli citizens if Middle East peace talks fail.
“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 citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group that included senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “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.”
Afterward, the State Department tried to smoother over Kerry’s comments.
“[Kerry] was talking about the kind of future Israel wants and the kind of future both Israelis and Palestinians would want to envision,” said Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the US State Department. “The only way to have two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. And without a two state solution, the level of prosperity and security the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve isn’t possible.”
But other experts have called the comparison between Israel and apartheid wrong and offensive. Richard Goldstone, a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court who headed up the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008 and 2009, has said such comparisons are unfair and inaccurate.