Sarkozy and Obama - AP
French President Nicolas Sarkozy with American President Barack Obama. Photo by AP
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At a G-20 conference in Cannes in November 2011, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and said he “can’t stand” the Israeli leader. U.S. President Barack Obama responded, “You’re tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.” These rare quotes, revealing truths that are usually kept from the public due to the rules of diplomacy and political correctness, came to light only because the two presidents didn’t realize that the microphones were still on.

Now, it is John Kerry’s turn. In contrast to Sarkozy and Obama, the U.S. secretary of state was caught revealing truths not about people, but about fundamental issues. During a meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week, Kerry was recorded as saying, “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.” He also warned that a stalemate in the peace process could lead to renewed violence in the territories, while hinting that progress might be possible under a different government: If “there is a change of government or a change of heart, something will happen,” he said.

Kerry’s frank statements weren’t the sort that diplomatic ears are accustomed to hearing, and he was therefore subjected to a wave of political and personal attacks for having made them. He was even forced to publicly express regret for having used the word “apartheid,” saying, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word.”

It’s no accident that Kerry was forced to retract the term “apartheid” in particular. There’s good reason for the sensitivity over comparisons of Israel with apartheid-era South Africa: Aspects of apartheid already exist in Israel, and they are liable to expand if the two-state solution collapses. But instead of working to alter the country’s destructive direction, groups and individuals that call themselves “pro-Israel” are trying to obscure the grim reality by denying the “apartheid” label.

Kerry’s “off-the-record” remarks essentially described reality: Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state without a two-state solution, a unitary state would be an apartheid state, a stalemate in the peace process is liable to lead to another intifada and a change in the composition of Israel’s government, and/or the person heading it, is liable to change the picture. The troubling snapshot of reality that Kerry presented must be altered by implementing a two-state solution. For unlike an audio recording, the tragedy that is gradually taking shape here won’t be possible to rewind or erase.