Jerusalem: Israel and the Palestinians appeared determined Monday to seal their divorce as Washington`s deadline for reaching a Mideast peace deal was to expire, leaving hopes for a breakthrough in tatters.
After more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry with the initial aim of brokering a deal by April 29, Washington`s patience appeared to be growing thin as both sides moved to distance themselves from the crisis-hit talks.
Speaking to a closed meeting of international figures, Kerry reportedly said that if Israel did not seize the opportunity to make peace soon, it risked becoming an "apartheid state," a US news website reported.
"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 said, according to a transcript obtained by The Daily Beast and published yesterday.
Apartheid is the term for the system of racial segregation put in place by the white supremacist regime in South Africa from 1948 until the country`s first all-race elections in 1994.
Israeli Transport Minister Israel Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s rightwing Likud party, expressed outrage at Kerry`s reported comments. "Kerry, shame on you. There are some words you cannot use," he wrote on his Facebook page.
"On this day of national commemoration of the Holocaust, we have the US secretary of state describing us as an apartheid state -- us, the state which is subjected to threats of destruction."
While both Kerry and President Barack Obama have previously refrained from using the term when speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former president Jimmy Carter titled a 2006 book that he wrote on the subject "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid".
Kerry insisted that although the peace process was at a point of "confrontation and hiatus," it was not dead -- yet.
But both the Palestinians and the Israelis appear to have drawn their own conclusions about the life expectancy of the US-led negotiations, which have made no visible progress since they began nine months ago.
Last week, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip announced a surprise unity deal aimed at ending years of occasionally violent rivalry.