Last Friday, while speaking to a closed meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the ante in his bid to keep his Middle East peace initiative alive. While lamenting the latest collapse of the talks, Kerry cast blame for the outcome on both Israel and the Palestinians but made it clear the consequences for the former would be far more serious.
In the recording of his comments, which was obtained by the Daily Beast, Kerry not only repeated his past warnings that if peace wasn’t reached Israel would be faced with a new round of violence from the Palestinians as well as increased boycott efforts. He went further and said that the alternative to an Israeli acceptance of a two-state solution was that it would become “an apartheid state.”
In doing so, Kerry exploded the notion that he is an evenhanded broker. Identifying Israel as even a potential apartheid state is not only an incendiary slur; it demonstrates the fundamental flaw at the heart of Kerry’s effort. There is no comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel. But that term is not merely an inexact analogy. Since the Palestinians allege that the desire for a Jewish state is racist, claiming that the lack of peace means apartheid is a tacit acceptance of the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
Though this may not be Kerry’s direct intent, his resort to the ultimate slander in order to pressure Israel’s leaders to be more accommodating reinforces both Palestinians’ intransigence and their conviction that it is in their interest to keep saying no to Israeli peace offers.
Rather than a mere expression of frustration, as Kerry’s apologists will insist, the use of the “A” word does more to doom the already dim chances of peace. As such, Kerry’s already dubious utility as a peace process facilitator is officially at an end.
Kerry’s defenders are arguing that there is nothing new about a discussion centered on the belief that the status quo is unsustainable for Israel. Kerry’s position, which echoes that of the Jewish left in Israel and the United States, is that Israel’s best interests are served by a separation from the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. Without a peace treaty that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they argue, the continuation of the current situation means the population there would have neither self-determination nor the rights of Israeli citizens.
The question of unsustainability is one that I think is, at best, highly debatable. Even as dim a light as The New York Times’s Roger Cohen has realized that the predictions about Israel’s doom are insupportable. But it is true that a majority of Israelis would, understandably, prefer a two-state solution. The notion that the Palestinians share this desire is equally debatable given the refusal of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, to accept Israel’s repeated offers of peace and independence.
But by including the word “apartheid” in this discussion, Kerry has done the cause of peace to which he has devoted so much effort this past year a grave disservice. Though the standoff in the West Bank is deeply troubling, it is not remotely comparable to the situation in South Africa that preceded the end of the old white minority regime.
Arabs have complete equality before the law and political rights inside Israel. Even in the West Bank, where the failure to make peace has led to a situation in which Israel maintains its security presence, the Palestinian Authority is the governing authority for the overwhelming majority of those who live there. More important, the Jews, who remain a majority of the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River rather than an apartheid-style minority, have repeatedly offered the Palestinians statehood and been turned down every time, the last refusal coming during the talks Kerry sponsored.