The nine-month deadline for the Israeli-Palestinian talks expired on Tuesday with the sides trading blame and the chief mediator – US Secretary of State John Kerry – issuing a statement not about progress, but about how he did not think Israel would become an apartheid state.
“Israel would have liked to be at a different place,” said one government official familiar with the negotiations. “We would have liked to see a successful outcome to the negotiations. But what we saw was a Palestinian side that didn’t engage in good faith when the Americans put on the table principles for final status. In dealing with the core issues, the Palestinians ran away.”
The Palestinians rejected an American package to continue the talks, he continued. “And the final nail in the coffin came in the agreement to form a pact with Hamas.”
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, accused Israel of actively sabotaging peace talks. “Unfortunately, Israel never gave the negotiations a chance to succeed,” the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency quoted Erekat as saying.
“To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” he said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had taken advantage of the nine-month negotiating period to “consolidate [Israel’s] apartheid regime,” Erekat claimed.
His use of the word “apartheid” came a day after a tape surfaced of US Secretary of State John Kerry using the term to characterize a possible future Israeli political reality, should a two-state solution with the Palestinians fail to come to pass.
On Monday evening, responding to fallout from his use of the word, Kerry issued a clarification in which he did not outright apologize, but did say that he should have used a different term.
“I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes,” he said. “I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.”
Kerry nevertheless acknowledged in his statement that use of the word “apartheid,” which carries political weight given its roots in South African institutionalized racism, was regrettable.
“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,” he said.
Kerry said that even though Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert “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 prioritized peace between Israel and the Palestinians above all else as secretary of state, traveling to the region more than anywhere in the world since assuming office last spring.
During his three-decade tenure in the United States Senate, Kerry had a flawless record in support of Israel and its security.
In the tape, released on Sunday by the Daily Beast website, Kerry told the Trilateral Commission at an off-the-record event last week that “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.”
He was roundly criticized for his comments by politicians in Israel and the US, and by major American Jewish organizations.
Kerry defended his pursuit of Middle East peace as the only way to ensure Israel remains both Jewish and democratic.
“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,” he said. “That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said.”
Kerry’s apartheid comment, meanwhile, continued to fuel criticism in Israel, though the Prime Minister’s Office responded neither to the initial comment, nor to Kerry’s clarification.
Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said Israelis can’t attack Kerry for his “apartheid” comments when Livni said similar things.
“This is the problem with Israel’s position in the world. We sabotage it from the inside,” she said.
In an extended blog post, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) wrote that “Kerrys come and Kerrys go. The Eternal Nation doesn’t have to take his manipulations too seriously.”
Feiglin also wrote that “there is a clear and recognized difference between human rights and civil rights,” and that “if annexation of territory without affording full voting rights means apartheid,” then the US has an apartheid regime in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.
“If and when we see that granting voting rights or full citizenship to other national groups will threaten Israel’s Jewish identity, it is our full right not to do so,” he continued.
“Israel has and always will grant all its residents full human rights.”
On the Left, MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said that Kerry signed a certificate of death for negotiations.
“He’s right, but not smart.
Israel is deteriorating into a binational state in which some will be more equal and some will be less equal,” he said. “An entire population group is pushing Israel into the apartheid corner, which we should avoid.
“Kerry failed. His loss is our loss,” Shai said.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said he didn’t understand the fuss over the secretary of state’s comments.
“What did Kerry say? We know the extremist group that’s feeding the fire all the time, even in the leading party [the Likud],” Gilon said, going off-topic in a plenum discussion on the Hadassah Medical Centers’ financial woes.
“If we don’t reach two states for two peoples, I might end up in Hadassah,” Gilon quipped.
In the same meeting, MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said: “It’s fun to be on the Right. Nine months pass and there’s nothing. What did we achieve? Did we get anything from the breakdown in negotiations?”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.