State Dept: Kerry regrets ‘apartheid’ word choice, not sentiment

State Dept: Kerry regrets ‘apartheid’ word choice, not sentiment

‘We’re in a holding period now that Israel has suspended peace talks,’ says spokeswoman, as April 29 deadline for peace deal passes

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards a plane in Paris, France, on March 31, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/pool/Jacquelyn Martin)
US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards a plane in Paris, France, on March 31, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/pool/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State John Kerry’s late-night statement Monday on his use of the word “apartheid” came in light of the unfair and inaccurate spin placed on his employment of the incendiary term, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday. Amid a firestorm of criticism from Jewish groups and US legislators alike, Kerry had acknowledged Monday that, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution.”

At the same time, Psaki defended the message behind Kerry’s original Friday evening comments. “He doesn’t disagree with the notion that many Israeli leaders have stated, regarding their concerns about a unitary state and a range of impacts that it could have,” Psaki said.

Speaking to the non-governmental Trilateral Commission, Kerry warned Friday that “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.”

His comments were attacked by a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called for Kerry’s immediate resignation. Some right-wing Israeli MKs also castigated Kerry for using “apartheid” in the context of Israel.

The US secretary, Psaki said Tuesday, regretted his word choice but not necessarily the sentiment.

“He knows that the power of words can create a misimpression, even if it is unintentional,” she said. “He is not naïve about the games played in Washington. Many people used his comments out of context to distort his records.”

“Perception is important,” Psaki elaborated. “The fact that people were perceiving his comments as a lack of support for Israel it is absurd and inaccurate and something we couldn’t allow to stand.”

During a regularly scheduled press briefing, Psaki also commented on the fate of the peace process. April 29 was the target date originally conceived for the achievement of a final agreement, when the sides agreed to resume talks last summer.

Over time, it became increasingly clear that a final agreement was impossible within the original nine-month framework, but US interlocutors still hoped that the sides would agree to continue talks — and possibly agree on an interim framework — by the late-April deadline.

Last week’s announcement of plans to form a Palestinian unity government with Hamas and Israel’s ensuing decision to freeze talks put a damper on those plans.

“There is nothing special about the [April] date now, given that Israel suspended negotiations,” Psaki reflected. “We reached a point in which a pause is necessary. We are in a holding period.”

Still, Psaki stressed, Kerry “has not a moment of regret about every ounce of time he’s spent on this effort.”

“He continues to believe that a peace process is to the benefit of the Palestinian and Israeli people and the American people,” she said, adding that he will resume wholehearted involvement should both sides be ready to “make the decisions that are necessary.”

Although she stressed that the sides had made progress during the nine months of talks, Psaki said that she was not aware of any plans to bring the American negotiations team led by Ambassador Martin Indyk back to the region.

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