Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Israel isolated as peace process fades

FALLOUT FROM OLD EVENTS Some analysts said that disputes between Israel and key allies are rooted in occurrences from before Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office

AFP , JERUSALEM

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.

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