While comfortable domestically, however, Netanyahu leads an Israel that is isolated regionally and internationally in a way not seen since before the original 1978 Camp David Accords. Once-close ally Turkey has recently expelled the Israeli ambassador for Israel’s unwillingness to issue an apology for the killing of eight Turkish citizens involved in the Gaza flotilla confrontation last year, and Israel has pulled its ambassadors from Jordan as a precautionary measure, and from Egypt after an angry mob recently sacked the embassy compound in Cairo. Saudi Arabia, which previously offered Israel recognition from the entire Arab League in exchange for a peace agreement, is now a chief supporter of Abbas’ independent statehood gambit at the U.N.
“Netanyahu and Abbas look at each other and see mirror images of mistrust, each convinced in his heart that the other does not really want a peace agreement,” said Michael Herzog, a retired general in the Israeli Defense Forces and an international fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Intellectually and analytically, Netanyahu understands the need to break the impasse, but given his ideological background and political constituency, it’s very hard for him to move forward, and the Palestinians are not making it any easier. At the same time Israel is confronting crises on too many fronts right now, and we need bold leadership just to avoid worst-case scenarios. Staying reactionary or standing pat on the status quo is not going to make things better for Israel. Quite the opposite.”
There’s another old diplomatic saw that the basic contours of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are well known to all sides, and it just needs an alignment of enlightened leaders with courage and political will to see peace over the goal line. It’s probably even true. Yet Obama has seen his Middle East peacemaking founder on the same shoals that sunk the efforts of his two predecessors in the White House, and that broke the perseverance even of a tested peacemaker like George Mitchell. Netanyahu knows the Palestinians have rejected offers from his two predecessors that neither he, nor his coalition, could countenance. Abbas feels the hot breath of Hamas extremists on his neck at all times, ready to pounce at any sign of weakness or capitulation. Everyone carries the memory and cautionary legacy of the peacemakers before their time, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Yitzak Rabin.
There’s a reason this conflict is considered the third rail in foreign affairs.