Recently retired US Central Commander General James Mattis warned yesterday that if Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority failed, Israel would be exposed as an apartheid state. Mattis pointed at the settlement enterprise as the source of Israel’s diplomatic crisis, declaring that “the protagonists” – Israel and the Palestinian Authority – might not be as interested in a deal as Kerry is.
Speaking July 20, at the Aspen Institute’s annual Security Forum, Mattis said that as a result of Israeli intransigence and the US special relationship with Israel, he and his troops have “paid a military security price.” His comments echoed those of his predecessor, General David Petraeus, who told the Senate Armed Service Committee in 2010 that “enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors” had damaged US interests in the region. Petraeus was hammered by pro-Israel forces for his remarks – Abe Foxman called him “dangerous” — and wound up walking them back.
Mattis, a 45-year military veteran, left his post at CENTCOM on June 1 and appears to be speaking his mind without much concern for domestic political pressure. Here are his remarks on Israel-Palestine and Kerry’s efforts in the region [beginning at about 41:00]:
I would tell you that the current situation is unsustainable. It’s got to be directly addressed. We don’t want to turn this over to our children, the same thing that you and I have lived with our entire adult lives. We have got to find a way to make the two state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported, we’ve got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements and where they’re at, are going to make it impossible to maintain the two state option. For example, if I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s ten thousand Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include ‘em, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country. So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency, and I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t want to show respect for the Arab Palestinians. So [Kerry’s] right on target with what he’s doing. I just hope the protagonists want peace as much as he does.
Later, in response to a question from his audience, Mattis reiterated his opinion that the US special relationship with Israel was damaging American interests:
The Middle East peace process and the lack of progress there, that Secretary Kerry is doing so much for right now, that short stops a lot of support for us because all politics are local and Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, just like in Washington and Aspen…I would just tell you that they can’t come out in support of us if we don’t see some progress where Secretary Kerry is wisely focused like a laser beam right now.