Israel: John Kerry's inflammatory words do nothing for peace
The use of such undiplomatic language also distracts from the very real difficulties the Israelis face in trying to reach an agreement
By Telegraph View
6:40AM BST 29 Apr 2014
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has made a commendable attempt to end the rancorous dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. He has devoted an enormous amount of political capital and energy to this goal, making frequent visits to the region to bring his considerable gravitas to bear on the participants. Having expended so much effort, it is only natural that Mr Kerry should feel a deep sense of frustration that the talks – as so many predicted – have run into the ground after Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, last week announced the suspension of his country’s participation. This was in response to the united accord struck by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, with the Islamist Hamas group, which Israel considers a terrorist organisation.
But if Mr Kerry still nurtures hopes that the talks can be revived, his careless remark that Israel was in danger of evolving into an apartheid state is hardly likely to help matters. Speaking at what he believed was a closed meeting of international officials in Washington, Mr Kerry warned that Israel ran the risk of becoming “an apartheid state with second class citizens” without a peace deal.
Comparing Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian territory to South Africa’s former apartheid regime would be inflammatory at the best of times. Even Barack Obama, who enjoys a fractious relationship with the Israeli government, understands the pitfalls of making such comparisons during peace negotiations, once remarking that “injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion does not advance that goal”.
The use of such undiplomatic language also distracts from the very real difficulties the Israelis face in trying to reach an agreement. From the outset, Israel’s security concerns have dominated the discussions, with their negotiators offering to make painful territorial concessions in return for cast-iron guarantees concerning the future safety of Israeli citizens. But Mr Abbas’s refusal to allow Israel to maintain a limited military presence in any future independent Palestinian territory, together with his recent accord with Hamas, has meant that no such pledges have been forthcoming, thereby causing the talks to stall. Israel argues, with some justification, that there is little likelihood of reaching an agreement with an organisation such as Hamas, which remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. If Mr Kerry still wants his bold peace initiative to succeed, then he would be better advised to address these and other concerns than to use language that is guaranteed to cause offence to Israel.