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 that 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 since he is, as he has done previously, effectively rationalizing, if not justifying the next intifada as well as the continued efforts of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement against Israel. The point here is that if the maintenance of the status quo will make Israel an apartheid state, then it must already be one. Given the odious nature of such a regime, that would not only justify the boycotts but also violence on the part of the Palestinians against Israel.
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 that the continuation of the current situation means that 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. As I wrote last week, 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 in the 1994. 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 importantly, 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.
Whether the Palestinians are ever able to take the leap of faith to make peace or not, Israel will remain a full democracy within its borders. More to the point, the continuation of the situation in the West Bank will be one that is not a matter of a Jewish minority willfully dominating the Arab majority as was the case in South Africa for blacks and whites. Rather it is one in which a largely belligerent power—the PA—prefers the current anomalous situation over actual peace with Israel since signing a treaty would obligate them to end the century-old war they have been fighting against Zionism. And the more Americans throw around the apartheid slur, the less likely they will ever be to take such a decision.
Kerry may, as he indicated in the tape, present his own peace plan to the parties at some point on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. But his ability to influence events in a positive way is finished. By injecting the apartheid slur into the negotiations, Kerry has poisoned the waters in a manner that will only make it more rather than less difficult for Palestinian leaders to do what they must to bring about peace. Rather than pushing the parties toward an agreement, he has sabotaged the process. Just as the end of the conflict will have to wait until a new generation of Palestinians is willing to put aside their rejection of a Jewish state, so, too, must a productive American intervention be put off until Kerry leaves the diplomatic stage.