These are times of tectonic shifts. Policies once deemed unassailable are being assailed, bilateral relations considered carved in rocks and therefore immune to change are undergoing a shocking transformation, and borders between friends and foes are blurring in a way that makes it difficult to assess who are friends and foes. In this sense, the statement of US Secretary of State John Kerry that ‘Israel risks becoming an apartheid state if it does not make peace with the Palestinians soon’ should be seen as part of the cataclysmic changes happening in our region. At the same time, that shouldn’t undermine the significance of his statement either. A US secretary of state using the word ‘apartheid’ in reference to Israel was widely dubbed as a first by the international media yesterday, and can have a huge impact.
Kerry allegedly made the remarks to a group of senior international officials at a closed-door meeting of the influential Trilateral Commission on Friday, The Daily Beast news website reported. “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 said.
The provocation for the statement was Kerry’s frustration over the almost certain collapse of the current nine-month round of peace talks. He blamed both sides for the collapse of the talks, but was especially angry with the Israeli officials whose intransigence caused this collapse. Kerry has every right to vent his anger – he has invested so much of his time and energy for peace that he would expect at least a quarter of his seriousness from the partners involved.
In the same way as US relations with its allies in our region are fraying due to a slew of unexpected factors, Washington’s relations with Israel too are undergoing minor shifts. Kerry’s bold statement is proof of this shift, which was considered unthinkable until recently. As expected, Israelis reacted furiously. “Kerry, shame on you. There are some words you cannot use,” Transport Minister Israel Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party, wrote on his Facebook page.
The unusual remark could only have a positive impact on Washington’s peace efforts. One of the biggest hurdles to peace has been Washington’s unswerving support for Israeli aggressions. That support still continues, and is unlikely to change in the near future, but criticism of Israel by US officials gives the hope that Washington will not be a silent spectator. The Obama administration is resetting its relations with some Middle East countries, and in this policy upheaval, there is no reason for Israel to remain unaffected.