WASHINGTON - The US denies US Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Israel is an "apartheid state" but failed to deny comments attributed to him in which he insinuated Israel would become one should peace talks fail. Kerry reportedly warned foreign leaders in private discussions on Friday that Israel will risk becoming "an apartheid state."
State Department Spokeswomen Jan Psaki said "I'm not going to confirm the accuracy of comments made during a private meeting. But the secretary does not believe and did not state publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state. Israel is obviously a vibrant democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens."
Beforehand Psaki tweeted cases of Israeli leaders making similar claims, for example when Justice Minister and Chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni issued such a warning in an interview with Thinkprogress.org. She also linked to an article in which former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert both made similar comments.
Paski noted that "I would also note that Secretary Kerry, like Justice Minister Livni and previous Israeli prime ministers Olmert and Barak, believe that a two-state solution is the only way to have two nations and two people living side-by-side in peace and security. And that's the only way where the level of prosperity and security that the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve is possible."
Tuesday brings with it the deadline for peace talks, when asked whether talks would reach their end, Psaki said: "I don't think so... I think we've talked about the difficult choices that still need to be made - the unhelpful steps both parties have taken, and the fact that we still see a benefit and an opportunity. So we'll see what the parties do."
She further claimed US peace envoy Martin Indyk had left the region, but said. "Ambassador Shapiro, of course, remains on the ground, and C.G. Ratney remains on the ground, and we have a range of contacts at many levels with Israel and Palestinian officials."
The Daily Beast reported on Monday that Kerry warned that should peace talks fail, Israel would turn into "an apartheid state" or risks losing its Jewish identity.
The Daily Beast acquired recordings of the comments which were made to the Trilateral Commission, a group meant to encourage cooperation between the US, Europe, and Japan.
According to the report, Kerry also noted that the failure of peace talks could lead to a rise in violence from Palestinians against Israeli civilians and condemned Israeli building settlements.
Kerry also hinted at his intentions for the near future to lay out a peace deal that Israelis and Palestinians will have to either, "take it or leave it."
"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," said Kerry in the recordings.
"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."
The Secretary of State also expressed disappointment is leaders from both sides and said that if, "there is a change of government or a change of heart, something will happen.”
Kerry faces strong political backlash from pro-Israeli factions for his remarks. Using the term 'apartheid' in reference to the Jewish State has long been a point of contention which perhaps reached its peak when former US president Jimmy Carter released his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid.
During his election campaign in 2008, Barack Obama responded to claims that Israel is an apartheid state saying, "I strongly reject the characterization."
Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there's no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn't advance that goal," said Obama.
"It's emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it's not what I believe," he concluded.
Others defended Kerry's comments including State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki who spoke to The Daily Beast.
"Secretary Kerry, like Justice Minister Livni, and previous Israeli Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak, was reiterating why there's no such thing as a one-state solution if you believe, as he does, in the principle of a Jewish State," Paski said.
"He was talking about the kind of future Israel wants and the kind of future both Israelis and Palestinians would want to envision," she said.