while Obama is running as fast as he can, all the Middle Eastern players are convinced that they had better move slowly. When he said, “After me,” they all replied, “After you, and him, and him, too.”
Netanyahu has no desire to make political or strategic sacrifices before he sees some progress on the Iranian nuclear front. Abbas and the Palestinians—and some other Arab leaders—are still hoping that if they wait, Obama might be drawn into pressuring Israel a little more. Arab states are reluctant to move before the Palestinians do. The Syrians want to make sure that they bet on the right horse—and will not abandon their Iranian card while it is still valuable. In short, the Obama administration had hoped that by showing enthusiasm and dynamism it would ignite positive momentum. Instead, it had raised false expectations and now faces a credibility gap.
Even if there is a trilateral meeting in New York next week, it will be a meeting of the disappointed, the nonbelievers, and the very hard-to-please. Netanyahu was amazed and offended by “unprecedented” American pressure. Abbas was offended by America’s broken promise that it would make sure all Israeli construction in the West Bank, Jerusalem included, would be stopped. That is an old and familiar Middle East tactic: Be sure you always seem hurt and frustrated in the hope of getting more of that precious American prodding.