WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he had chosen the wrong word in describing Israel’s potential future after coming under withering criticism for saying the Jewish state could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.
In a statement released by the State Department, Kerry lashed out against “partisan political” attacks against him, but acknowledged his comments last week to a closed international forum could have been misinterpreted. While he pointedly did not apologize for the remarks, he stressed he was, and is, a strong supporter of Israel, which he called a “vibrant democracy.” He said his remarks were only an expression of his firm belief that a two-state resolution is the only viable way to end the long-running conflict. And, he stressed, he does not believe Israel is, or is definitely on track to become, an “apartheid state.”
“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,” Kerry said after U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel groups criticized him, with some demanding his resignation or at least an apology.
“First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and 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,” he said.
“Second, 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 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,” Kerry added.
On Sunday, the Daily Beast reported that Kerry had told a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington on Friday that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state” with two classes of citizens if negotiations to forge a peace deal fail and a two-state solution is not reached.
In his statement, Kerry defended his general point, noting that numerous Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, have offered similar assessments in the past.
But, he said while Barak, Olmert and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, “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.”