The Daily Beast reported on Sunday that Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state” should the Israelis and Palestinians fail to reach a two-state solution to their decades old conflict, a warning that many top Israeli officials themselves have issued.
“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 reportedly said in a private meeting with world leaders. “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 yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
A number of very senior Israeli officials have also warned that Israel risks becoming an apartheid-like state absent a two-state solution:
- 2007 — then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
- 2010 — then-Israeli Defense Minister and Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak: “The simple truth is, if there is one state” including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
- 2013 — Israeli Justice Minister and Lead Peace Negotiator Tzipi Livni: “But the time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state? It is impossible to deal with economic issues and to ignore the important diplomatic issues related to two states for two peoples.”
Last year, Yuval Diskin — the former head of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet — issued a similar warning. He said if the two-state solution fails, the result would essentially be “one state for two nations.”
“When we get there,” he said, “we will face an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and in a few years, the reality of the country’s demographics will lead to a Palestinian- Arab majority and a Jewish minority, with all that entails.”
Regarding the “apartheid” warning, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp expains the conundrum absent two states:
Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in Israel-Palestine, if they don’t already. For Israel, which sees itself as both Jewish and democratic, this poses an existential crisis. If Arabs outnumber Jews and are allowed to vote, then it’s the end of a Jewish state. But if Arabs outnumber Jews and aren’t allowed to vote, then Israel is no longer a democracy.
Referring to Israel in this context as “an apartheid state” stirs strong emotions in the Israel-Palestine debate and some avoid using the term either because it’s not directly analogous to apartheid in South Africa or it serves to shut down discussion — a point President Obama referenced during his campaign for president in 2008 when he said he does not use the term.
Indeed, since the Daily Beast published its story on Sunday evening, Kerry has been the recipient of numerous attacks, mainly from the American right. The Emergency Committee for Israel — a neoconservative group led by Bill Kristol — even called on him to step down because of his remarks.
Kerry has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a top priority since becoming the nation’s top diplomat — a push that conservatives have attacked him for. He warned last year just before negotiations resumed that there is perhaps a two-year window to achieve a two-state solution, “or it’s over.” Kerry has also warned of rekindled violence and Israel’s increased isolation should the talks break down.
Kerry released a statement on Monday walking back his reported comments. “[I]f 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,” he said. “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. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert 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.”