Israeli deputy defense minister: Kerry's apartheid comments a pattern, not a gaffe

Let’s back this up a little bit to understand why Israeli deputy defense minister Danny Denon felt compelled to write his response to John Kerry for Politico Magazine. After the media explosion over the top US diplomat’s warning that Israel would become an “apartheid state,” a number of people jumped to Kerry’s defense, including J-Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. He wrote for CNN that the hysterical reaction to the word “apartheid” missed the fact that Kerry is, in fact, Israel’s best friend:

Without a two-state solution to this conflict, Israel draws ever closer to an unfathomable choice: Forsake its democracy by establishing rule of a Jewish minority over a non-Jewish majority, or forsake its Jewish character by granting equal rights to all residents under its control.

That’s the future that former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak warned about when they invoked the specter of apartheid, and it’s that future that Kerry has been working tirelessly to avert with his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. It’s a choice that draws sadly closer, now that Kerry’s efforts have passed their initial nine-month deadline, and the parties have resumed the familiar cycle of provocation and retaliation.

To question Kerry’s commitment to Israel over a word, after everything that he’s done to help Israel, is absurd. No U.S. leader has done more to help Israel gain acceptance in the international community and ensure its long-term peace and security.

We’ll get back to that argument in a moment. Ben-Ami describes the current situation clearly enough, and why the two-state solution is the only reasonable and workable solution to both Israeli and Palestinian ambitions. Anyone who has traveled to the West Bank even briefly sees that situation as untenable and miserable for the people who live there. Those conditions are terrible in most places, especially where the security wall cuts into traditionally Palestinian territory. The wall has succeeded in stopping terrorist attacks, but its placement is controversial to say the least, and creates economic hardship for a lot of people who just want to live a normal life.

Israelis support the idea of a two-state solution — as long as it’s a permanent two-state solution, and not just a transition to the destruction of Israel. Unfortunately, Fatah has preferred the latter, and Hamas — which has continually rained down rockets from non-occupied Gaza onto Israeli civilians — doesn’t even want to bother with a transitional phase before destroying Israel. The peace process has gone nowhere because of those problems, not because the Israelis demand recognition as a permanent, Jewish nation as a condition of their cooperation with the two-state solution.

As far as the issue just being about a bad word choice, Danon schools Ben-Ami on the perception of Kerry’s “friendship”:

Time and again, Secretary Kerry’s erroneous declarations have come dangerously close to suggesting moral equivalency between Israel and its adversaries. They call into question his administration’s ability to act as an honest broker in our region.

Last July, just three months after the negotiations began, Kerry gave a joint interview to Israeli and Palestinian television channels with the aim of increasing public support for his efforts. When asked by the Israeli reporter why these talks are so vital, the secretary failed to detail what the fruits of a real peace might be for the Israeli people. Nor did he recount the numerous efforts and overtures successive Israeli governments have made toward this end over the years. Instead he bleakly replied with a question of his own, asking, “Does Israel want a third intifada?”

By insinuating that if we do not give in to every Palestinian demand to ensure a successful end to the talks, we would return to the era of suicide bombers murdering hundreds of civilians in Israeli city centers, the secretary basically asked the state of Israel to negotiate with a loaded gun to our heads.

Then, in February, while addressing a conference in Munich, Kerry issued another veiled threat at Israel. This time he informed his audience, “the risks are very high for Israel. People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure.” Once again, instead of laying out a clear vision for why the talks he has invested so much time and effort in are in Israel’s interest, Kerry attempted to scare the Israeli public into capitulation. His attempts were viewed here in Israel as a not-so-cryptic message that the United States would no longer retain its steadfast rejection of any boycotts against Israel if our government did not ensure that the talks would end to the U.S. administration’s liking.

In other words, with friends like this, who needs enemies? This is a problem with Kerry in particular, who doesn’t seem to understand that the role of a diplomat is to act diplomatically. He’s operating more as a politician busy with self-promotion, or an academic whose bluster carries no implications or consequences. As Secretary of State and the top diplomat, he’s a walking disaster — and Israel has plenty of reason to think that they have a lot more American friends who are both more friendly and more competent than Kerry.

Shmuel Rosner, who calls Danon’s essay “ridiculously combative” at the Jewish Journal, nonetheless agrees with his argument. He also points out why the “apartheid” remarks were so wrong in the first place:

But really, Kerry’s comments were not just inaccurate, they were inaccurate in a specific and harmful way. Here’s what he said:

[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.

Is there a plan for a unitary state? No, there isn’t (except in kooky books such as Caroline Glick’s). So Kerry is using here an unlikely hypothetical scenario – the one state – to warn Israel from an unlikely future. This scenario, the “one state solution”, is as likely to occur as it is for Texas to secede from the Union. It is not a plan, or a serious prediction, it is a propaganda tool used by the Palestinians. Yet, from this unlikely hypothesis Kerry draws his doomsday scenario: if the hypothesis becomes a reality then Israel will be forced to subject the Palestinian population to a second-class status or give them equality and lose Israel’s Jewishness.

The good news is that Kerry seems to understand that this was an unnecessary statement. The bad news is that we are still not sure if he also understands that this was a statement based on false presumption. That is – we don’t know if Kerry understands that there is no “one state solution” available for anyone if the “two state solution” keeps failing to materialize.

Without doubt, Israel needs to offer concessions on the location of the wall and travel restrictions surrounding it, and on its settlements and water use in the West Bank. Having spent a little time in Jerusalem among its political class, my strong sense is that they would leap to do so if Hamas gave up violence and the Palestinian Authority committed to a permanent two-state solution that recognized Israel as the Jewish homeland within its own borders. They won’t surrender and commit suicide to make peace, though, and so far that’s the only option that nearly 50 years of negotiations have presented to them, including from their “best friend” Kerry.