WASHINGTON - Under fire from powerful American Jewish group and their supporters, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on Monday night apologising for his weekend comments that Israel risks becoming ‘an apartheid state’ if the Jewish state does not reach a peace deal to create a separate Palestinian state.
‘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,’ Kerry said in a statement released by the State Department.
The tape in question was published by the Daily Beast on Monday a recording of Kerry’s comments to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission on Friday in which he lamented the breakdown of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. ‘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 says in the recording.
From across the spectrum of right to left, Kerry’s condemnations rolled in Monday. Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman called the apartheid comment ‘startling and deeply disappointing.’ Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks called it ‘inflammatory and inaccurate.’ The National Jewish Democratic Council expressed its ‘deep disappointment.’ Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, called on Kerry to resign.
Kerry was speaking at the end of the most difficult week yet in his attempts to make progress on peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and just ahead of the official April 29 deadline for extending negotiations.
Just a few weeks ago, Kerry left the region in frustration and declared ‘reality-check time’ when the two sides could not agree to terms in a prisoner exchange. Just last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced plans to strike a reconciliation deal with Hamas which the United States and Israel designate a terrorist organization, but which has political control in the Gaza Strip ending a nearly decadelong split between that group and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which has control over the West Bank.
Kerry, in his statement, said that everything in his record showed him to be a strong supporter of Israel, arguing that his word choice had created a ‘misimpression.’ ‘For more than thirty 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 Tzipi Livni who is leading peace talks for the Israelis because I believe in the kind of future that Israel not only wants, but Israel deserves,’ Kerry said. ‘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.’
While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future,’ Kerry concluded, ‘it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.’
But not everyone viewed Kerry’s remarks as a gaffe. J Street, the dovish, left-wing Middle East lobbying organization, issued a statement saying. ’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.’
At Monday’s State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear that Kerry believes Israel is currently ‘a vibrant democracy with equal rights for its citizens’ and noted the Secretary of State was merely warning of the possible long term consequences if a two-state solution couldn’t be reached.