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Too many carrots and no sticks

What do Israelis feel about the collapse of the peace initiative driven by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry?

My take would be that most don’t give a shit, while small minorities on both sides of the political divide are saying “I told you so” and waiting, with some trepidation, to see what happens next.

A comptroller’s report issued on Monday revealed that one-fifth of the Israeli population lives in “food insecurity” – a euphemism for the fact that they don’t have enough money to feed themselves properly. I guess Kerry seems less important when you’re scrounging through garbage cans.

And, of those who aren’t insecure about their food supply, my guess would be that most stopped believing in peace a long time ago. The concept of peace has been so debased through lies, hypocrisy and misuse that it has lost all meaning. In Israel these days, it’s much easier – and more sensible – to believe in leprechauns than it is to believe in peace.

Most of the country had no expectations of Kerry and therefore they are unmoved by the demise of his initiative. Of those who were engaged, the largest group is the one led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They would have preferred that Kerry mind his own business, but seeing that he was determined to grapple with the issue, they understood that they could manipulate him to do what they’ve always done – waste time. In that, they were successful.

Nine months have passed, during which settlements were expanded and Palestinians killed. For people who believe that it’s only a matter of time – and not very much of it – until the occupation is well and truly irreversible, they were nine good months. All Israel had to do in return was release some 75 prisoners who, after well over 20 years in prison on average, are too decrepit and toothless to do much harm.

There may have been some lefties on the fringe who actually believed that Kerry might achieve something, though I never met any. And on the right, there are those for whom even Netanyahu’s nod towards the peace process with fingers crossed behind his back was appeasement. Their solutions are divine, not man-made, and nothing less than Gog and Magog will satisfy their bloodlust.

As a rule, Israelis don’t think about the future. Sure, they plan their summer vacations and some even try to put away some money for a rainy day, And there’s a not insignificant number whose idea of the future is burning bushes and divine edicts. But the future in terms of how Israelis will live with a burgeoning and increasingly hopeless Palestinian population in five, 10 or 20 years is a no-go area for the typical Israeli; a psychological black hole. Israelis don’t allow themselves to go there.

That may seem like the common sense reaction right now and it certainly allows us to get on with our lives by sublimating our existential fears, but it’s not going to stop the march of time. And it’s not going to change the reality of the post-Kerry situation – which is that the two-state solution is now dead.

In that sense, the Kerry initiative was valuable. It gave the lie to the pretense that, in the right circumstances, Israel was willing and able to meet the minimal conditions for the existence of a Palestinian state.

In an address to a committee of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Kerry clearly and deliberately blamed Israel for the breakdown of the talks. He specifically mentioned Israel’s refusal to release the last batch of prisoners and its announcement last week of additional construction in Jerusalem.

But those are merely the actions that halted the negotiating process. What is obstructing the achievement of peace with the Palestinians is Israel’s refusal to countenance a sovereign Palestine living in a defined and contiguous land area without any Israeli oversight. Without that, there will never be a two-state solution and that is the door that Israel has just slammed shut.

In the absence of a viable Palestinian state – and that absence is, in my opinion, now permanent and irrefutable – Israel is one state; a state in which one ethnic group subjugates and denies all civil liberties to another. The world calls that apartheid. Zionists may break out in hives at the mere mention of the word, but it is now the reality that Israel is going to have to deal with. Kerry has made sure of that.

The problem with Kerry’s approach was that he arrived with bundles of carrots but no sticks. (Teddy Roosevelt could have taught him a thing or two.) The situation reached its absurd extreme when Kerry offered to release the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, just to get some minor concessions out of Israel, In other words, the mediator in the talks was the one offering concessions in the absence of any willingness by Israel to budge. The ludicrousness of the situation was enough to sink Kerry.

We’re back to square one now, but with a difference. Israel’s intransigence has been finally and fully exposed. There is no moral equivalence between the sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; no symmetry between the occupier and the occupied. If the situation is going to change, Israel will have to change – and that is going to require the wielding of very big sticks by the U.S. and Europe.

They are the only ones who can save Israel from itself. But are they up to it?