I like Secretary of State John Kerry. I've known him for decades and repeatedly supported him when he ran for public office.
He has done a very good job as secretary of state especially with regard to his monumental and untiring efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. But the recent statements attributed to him, warning that if Israel does not negotiate a two-state solution, it may end up as an apartheid state, was a serious mistake.
First and foremost, it is completely inaccurate use of the loaded term apartheid, a term used to describe the South African legal system prior to Mandela’s election as president.
As President Obama has said, “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 . . . It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.”
Under apartheid, a small number of white South Africans had the right to vote, and blacks, who constituted the vast majority of South Africans, were completely disenfranchised. The legal system was completely stacked against the black majority.
All aspects of South African life were completely segregated. The black majority was not offered the opportunity to negotiate a new order in which they were given full rights.
Execution and whipping of blacks was common. Blacks were denied educational opportunities. Medical care for blacks was abysmal and dissent was punished.
Even considering the worst case scenario — the continuation of the current Israeli occupation and settlement policy — the situation on the West Bank would bear absolutely no resemblance to apartheid South Africa.
Arabs on the West Bank have the right to vote and elect their own leaders. They have their own universities and many attend universities in Israel and in other parts of the world.
Their healthcare is better than that of anywhere in the Arab world, and they have more freedom to dissent than Arabs do in any Arab or Muslim country.
Most importantly, their leaders have been given numerous opportunities to create their own independent state based on the two-state solution, thereby ending the occupation and the settlement building, but they have repeatedly rejected or failed to respond to these offers.
Accordingly, the situation of Palestinians on the West Bank, even under occupation, more closely resembles the situation of residents of Puerto Rico in relation to the United States.
Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections. They have no representation in the United States Senate or in Congress. They are statutory but not constitutional citizens of the United States.
By any usual standard, they must be deemed second class citizens of the United States. If there were massive threats of terrorism from Puerto Rican nationalists, comparable to the threats directed against Israel by Palestinian extremists, the United States would impose travel restrictions, checkpoints, and other protective measures.
Yet no one would dream of using the word apartheid to categorize the situation in Puerto Rico, in Guam, or in other American territories in which residents do not have full rights of citizenship.
Nor would anyone have used the term apartheid to describe Switzerland, before 1971 when women were finally given the right to vote in that country. Although there are no perfect analogies to South African apartheid, a far closer one would be Hamas-controlled Gaza, where Christians are second class citizens and women are fifth or sixth class.
At worst the situation on the West Bank, even if the occupation were to continue, is more aptly described as an imperfect democracy — with an occupier willing to end its occupation if the other side is prepared to compromise and negotiate.
Secretary Kerry has now acknowledged that he should not have used the term apartheid. He should now go further and use this opportunity to explain to the world why the term is completely inapposite to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Though Kerry was dead wrong in using the “A” word, it is easy to understand why that word might have slipped into an informal talk. Many Israeli dissenters, including some politicians who should know better, have also used that word in warning Israel about the consequences of not negotiating a two-state solution.
Former President Jimmy Carter also mendaciously used that term, as has Bishop Desmond Tutu, who has a long history of anti-Jewish comments. In his case, ignorance is no excuse, because he personally experienced apartheid and he knows the difference between the situation of blacks in South Africa and the situation of Palestinians on the West Bank.
His use of the term is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and an expression of his personal bigotry toward the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Radicals on the hard left in the U.S. and around the world also throw around the term apartheid. They direct it only against Israel, and not against those countries which comes so much closer to fitting that definition, such as Saudi Arabia which practices gender apartheid.
Even current South Africa is closer to a de facto apartheid state than is the West Bank.
Tragically, in the post-Mandela era, too many black citizens of South Africa live in squalor conditions in townships that lack even the most basic amenities.
John Kerry’s misstatement about apartheid is an educational moment. He can now use it to help educate the world both as to the real meaning of apartheid and as to the true situation of Palestinians in Ramallah and other vibrant and affluent Palestinian cities on the West Bank.
The Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate a two-state solution which would end the occupation and settlements. The fault for not having yet done so lies largely within the Palestinian leadership, which constantly places preconditions on negotiations and has refused generous offers by former Israeli Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert.
The time has come for telling the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to stop using loaded and incendiary words that distort the reality on the ground.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School. His latest book is his autobiography, "Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law." Read more reports from Alan M. Dershowitz — Click Here Now.
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