The noted absence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the nuclear summit in Washington underscored Israel’s growing isolation as it lurches from one diplomatic crisis to another.
In the year since the hawkish leader took power, Israel’s international ties have been plagued by tensions with Arab neighbors, spats with Europeans nations and, critically, a sharp deterioration of relations with key ally the US.
At the heart of the friction is the failure of efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.
Many, including King Abdullah of Jordan — one of only two Arab nations with ties to Israel — have blamed Netanyahu, who completed the first year of his second term in office last month.
“I met Benjamin Netanyahu this time last year. I was extremely optimistic by the vision he had for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Arabs,” the king told the Wall Street Journal last week
“However, I have to say that over the past 12 months everything I’ve seen on the ground has made me extremely skeptical,” he said.
Analysts say that Israel’s high-profile disputes with Turkey and the US are rooted in events that occurred before Netanyahu took office — Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip and the election of US President Barack Obama.
In December 2008, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert launched a devastating 22-day attack on the Palestinian territory in a bid to halt persistent rocket fire into Israeli towns.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the fighting. A damning UN probe accused Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers of war crimes.
The war prompted the Palestinians to break off peace talks and Turkey — Israel’s only Muslim ally — has lambasted Israel.
“Turkey used to be an important regional partner, strategically and diplomatically,” said Gerald Steinberg of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
“The Gaza war was the excuse it was looking for. Since it realized it can’t be a part of Europe, it has had to throw in its lot with the Arab world and move closer to Syria and Iran,” he said.
Obama has been more willing to demand greater concessions from Israel than his predecessor former US president George W. Bush.
Netanyahu returned from talks with Obama last month to a wave of derision in the Israeli press, with a showdown over Jewish settlement construction in annexed Arab east Jerusalem unresolved.
When Netanyahu abruptly pulled out of the Washington nuclear summit — officially because he did not want Muslim nations to make Israel’s undeclared arsenal the focus — many believed that it was actually because he was anxious to avoid Obama.
Netanyahu has not yet answered US demands aimed at paving the way for fresh peace talks with the Palestinians.
Speaking at an event last week to mark a year in office, Netanyahu denied he was to blame for Israel’s diplomatic woes.
“There are those who want to put the responsibility on Israel, but anyone who looks at matters fully will see this is not the case, and it is not connected to specific steps of this government,” he said.
Instead, he said, Israel’s international standing was under threat from “the progress of extreme Islam in our region” and the world’s failure to confront it.
Still, analysts say Netanyahu and his outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have exacerbated events with heavy-handed and aggressive diplomacy.
“An argument could be made that the difference between Netanyahu and his predecessors is not how they behave but how he, and some of his officials, speak,” said Mark Heller of Tel Aviv University. “They either don’t know how, or don’t want to sugarcoat things, put on some kind of diplomatic gloss.”
Under Lieberman’s no-nonsense diplomacy, Israel has picked fights with several nations, notably Sweden and Turkey, over their failure to halt perceived anti-Semitic slurs in the media.
Arrest warrants for alleged agents of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency over the killing of a Hamas commander in Dubai have also earned rebukes from Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Ireland, whose faked passports were used in the hit.
Britain expelled a senior Israeli diplomat — reportedly the Mossad station chief in London — even though Israel has not acknowledged any involvement.
A resumption of serious talks with the Palestinians would go a long way towards improving Israel’s international standing, analysts said.
“If you are speaking about the West, it is true that as long as it appeared there was some kind of viable [peace] process, they were willing to cut Israel some slack,” Heller said.
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