US Secretary of State John Kerry has backtracked on suggestions that Israel could become an “apartheid state,” saying that he wishes he had formulated his sentences differently. It follows a wave of criticism sparked by a leaked recording of his words.
“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 said in a statement published on the US Department of State's
website on Tuesday.
“I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don’t believe,” he affirmed.
Kerry’s original controversy-inducing comment was delivered last Friday during a closed-door conference of the influential Trilateral Commission, and echoed like thunder across the political spectrum.
The Secretary of State said: “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.”
“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.”
Political analysts were quick to point out that, despite the term “apartheid state” being freely kicked around in other circles, it was the first time that a US statesman of Kerry’s caliber was known to have uttered the term.
Whether the comment was deliberately planned, or a slip of the tongue, Kerry quickly retreated from his Monday comment in his Tuesday statement.
“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.
The comment is already being used by Republicans hoping for a political advantage ahead of November's midterm elections.
“Reports that Secretary Kerry has suggested Israel is becoming an apartheid state are extremely disappointing,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, said. “The use of the word apartheid has routinely been dismissed as both offensive and inaccurate, and Secretary Kerry's use of it makes peace even harder to achieve.”
Kerry’s statements fell at the eleventh hour of the latest Middle East peace talks, which are scheduled to end Tuesday after a frenetic nine months which saw the Secretary of State shuttling back and forth between Washington and Israel, hoping to give the Palestinians what the international community gave to Israel in 1948: statehood.
To date, peace talks have not resulted in any solution.