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TWO STATES

Far from emerging as a celebrated peace negotiator in the Middle East, John Kerry, the secretary of state of the United States of America, is being forced to withdraw from the scene hurt and even maligned. A leaked secret tape of his speech at a closed-door meeting with private sector leaders shows him predicting that Israel could become an “apartheid” State if the two-State solution failed to work out. The situation would perhaps have been less embarrassing for the US had the words been spoken out in the open. After all, the prediction is not new and has been mouthed by Israelis themselves. The reason why Mr Kerry now has to eat his words is that the US, and not Mr Kerry alone, has refused to call a spade a spade before the two partners it has dragged to the table. In spite of knowing that Israel could ruin the talks process if it continued with its settlement drive, the US has failed to condemn the action in unequivocal terms. Israel’s settlement policy has been criticized all right, but the words have never been backed by the threat of action — economic sanctions, for one — that would possibly have made Israel pay heed. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to seek international recognition for the State of Palestine through membership in various organizations of the United Nations, a move that the US had warned against, have been promptly answered by aid cuts to organizations that enlisted Palestine. But here too, the US has shown confusion in its policy. The Barack Obama administration is believed to be trying its best to restore funding to Unesco that had defied the US stricture in 2011.

The US does not see the lapse of the April 29 deadline for a “final status” agreement by Israel and the Palestinian Authority as a defeat of its Middle East policy. Neither is Mr Kerry taking the snub from Israel on the “apartheid” issue seriously. They view the suspension of the talks as a pause in a process a return to which is inevitable. Fair enough. The problem is the tendency of such pauses to make the two-State solution increasingly more improbable than before. Already the steady rise of right-wing parties in Israel has made the two-State solution a subject to broach. More Israeli settlements and more chaos on the Palestinian front, which the projected unity government of Fatah and Hamas may easily turn out to be, would make the dream of two States totally impossible.