Kerry: Israeli Government Clueless About How It Wants to Tackle Palestinian Conflict

In interview to New Yorker, secretary of state says he sees Israel becoming a binational state which is 'impossible to manage'; his aides tell magazine Netanyahu intentionally stifles even 'inconsequential negotiations.'

Kerry during the climate summit in Paris, December 12, 2015.
U.S. State Department

The Israeli government doesn’t know how it wants to solve the conflict with the Palestinians or what kind of country it wants Israel to become, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with the New Yorker magazine published on Monday.

Does Israel want “to be one big fortress?” he asked.

Kerry’s criticisms of the Netanyahu government’s policies were part of a long profile by David Remnick, the magazine’s editor, of his three years as secretary of state. A significant part of the article dealt with Kerry’s frustration over his failure to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough and his fear that the Palestinian Authority will collapse.

Remnick also interviewed some of Kerry’s aides, who were quoted anonymously in the piece. They said Kerry’s grievances against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu range from West Bank settlement construction to “the way he employs Yitzhak Molcho, his lawyer and confidant, to stifle even the most inconsequential negotiation,” Remnick wrote.

Nevertheless, the aides said, Kerry intends to continue dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue until his last day on the job in January 2017.

Kerry told Remnick he believes Israel is on the road to becoming a binational state, which would be “an impossible entity to manage.”  He added that he fears the Palestinian Authority will collapse, leaving its 30,000 security personnel to scatter to the winds, which would result in anarchy and violent clashes with Israel.

The alternative to solving the conflict, Kerry continued, “is you sit there and things just get worse.”

“There will be more Hezbollah. There will be more rockets. And they’ll all be pointed in one direction. And there will be more people on the border. And what happens then? You’re going to be one big fortress? I mean, that’s not a way to live. It seems to me it is far more intelligent and far more strategic—which is an important word here—to have a theory of how you are going to preserve the Jewish state and be a democracy and a beacon to the world that everybody envisioned when Israel was created.”

Kerry said he didn’t believe Israel was going to disappear; rather, the question was what Israel would look like in the coming years. He didn’t use the word “apartheid,” but hinted that this was liable to be the outcome.

“Will it be a democracy? Will it be a Jewish state? Or will it be a unitary state with two systems, or some draconian treatment of Palestinians, because to let them vote would be to dilute the Jewish state?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I have no answer to that. But the problem is, neither do they,” Kerry continued, referring to the Israeli government. “Neither do the people who are supposed to be providing answers to this. It is not an answer to simply continue to build in the West Bank and to destroy the homes of the other folks you’re trying to make peace with and pretend that that’s a solution.”

Kerry also told Remnick that in 2010, when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad about the possibility of a peace agreement with Israel. Kerry said that during these talks, Assad gave him a signed letter containing a peace proposal under which Syria would recognize Israel and open an embassy there in exchange for the return of the Golan Heights.

Kerry added that he had made it clear to Assad that any such deal would require him to sever his military ties with Iran and Hezbollah. Haaretz reported on his talks with Assad back in February 2011.

But Kerry told Remnick that when Netanyahu heard about his effort, he opposed it. “Bibi came to Washington,” Kerry said, “and one of the first things out of his mouth in the Oval Office was ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to—I just can't."