Ramallah, West Bank - Israel is already an apartheid state, Palestinian officials have said in response to private comments made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned that failed negotiations would leave Israel like the old South Africa.
"Kerry is giving a descriptive statement about Israel contributing to its own isolation and de-legitimisation by its ongoing settlement activities, and its refusal to accept the two-state solution," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee. The PLO is in charge of negotiations with Israel.
On Friday, Kerry warned in private discussions with foreign leaders at the Trilateral Commission that Israel risks of turning into "an apartheid state," or else losing its Jewish identity, if a peace deal is not inked with the Palestinians in the near future.
Israel's push against a two-state solution and an independent Palestinian state could spell the end of the country's Jewish character. This leaves a single, civil "one-man, one-vote" state as the next option, if Israel wants to avoid turning into an apartheid regime.
"Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even (Thursday), said they remain deeply committed to," Kerry reportedly said, according to the US-based Daily Beast, which obtained the recording of the private conversation.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, declined to comment on Kerry’s remarks, as did the foreign ministry. Kerry's remarks also went unmentioned by members of the Knesset.
But the apartheid analogy is already a common one among centre-left politicians here. In 2010, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that "as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic… If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state."
Ehud Olmert did not use the word "apartheid," but alluded to it in an interview with Ha’aretz in 2007, when he was prime minister.
And Tzipi Livni, the current justice minister, warned last year that Israel faced a possible future as an "apartheid state".
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, used these Israeli officials' remarks to defend Kerry. "Secretary Kerry, like Justice Minister Livni, and previous Israeli Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak, was reiterating why there's no such thing as a one-state solution if you believe, as he does, in the principle of a Jewish state," she said.
|Israel suspends peace talks with Palestinians
Kerry had previously called on Israel to heed warnings of a growing boycott threat if peace talks with the Palestinians fail. "You see for Israel there's an increasing delegitimisation campaign that has been building up," Kerry said back in February. "Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty...cannot be maintained. It's not sustainable...There's a momentary prosperity, there's a momentary peace."
Some have argued that an apartheid system is already in place because Israel rules over all the Palestinians and the Israelis between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
The PLO's Ashrawi believes Kerry's comments reflect increasing US disappointment with Israel’s intransigence throughout the peace deliberations. "Kerry is expressing a sense of frustration with the fact that now Israel has walked out of the talks and refused to comply with the terms of reference and to stop settlement activity," she said. "14,000 settlement units have been built since the beginning of the talks."
Follow Dalia Hatuqa and Gregg Carlstrom on Twitter: @daliahatuqa and @glcarlstrom.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies