Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments to the Trilateral Commission last week concerning the consequences of failure to promptly achieve an agreement on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created quite a firestorm. And rightly so.
According to The Daily Beast, which obtained a tape of the proceedings, Mr. Kerry warned, among other things, that absent a two-state agreement Israel could become an “an apartheid state.”
This appears to be the first time a sitting senior U.S. official has publicly used the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel. Mr. Kerry has since apologized for using the term, but his apology has not eased concerns over his mindset and his grasp of the Middle East dynamic. Indeed, the apology raises questions of its own.
Though it has no direct role in decision-making, the Trilateral Commission is an influential non-governmental organization created in 1973 to bring together industrialized nations through periodic meetings of mostly academic and financial movers and shakers from North America, Europe and Japan.
We can only wonder why Mr. Kerry would seek to embed the notion of Israel as potentially an apartheid state in the thinking of a group of international opinion makers.
(Of course, Arab Israelis enjoy full legal rights in Israel, including voting and service in the Knesset. On the other hand, PA president Mahmoud Abbas has already declared there can be no agreement that would include Jewish residents of any future Palestinian state. So if anyone is thinking in terms of apartheid, it’s Mr. Abbas, along with his new Hamas allies.)
The more significant concern is the sense that Mr. Kerry, who has basically staked his legacy as secretary of state (and perhaps Barack Obama’s legacy as president as well) on securing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, has the air of desperation about him now that peace talks have collapsed.
And by raising the apartheid canard, unsupported as it is, he sent yet one more signal that the administration has no compunction about painting Israel in a negative light in an attempt to press Israeli leaders to be more pliable in their negotiating stance.
In his apology, Mr. Kerry said he has been a long time supporter of Israel and there was a “misimpression” about what he meant. He said he did not believe Israel is or intended to be an “apartheid state” and went on to say:
[I]f 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.
Yet the thrust of his remarks was plainly directed at Israel. What Mr. Kerry was really saying was that because he’s so desperate for a two-state solution at any price, Israel should be too.
The message to the Palestinians in all this is that their strategy of conceding nothing has worked and they can just sit back and wait.