A recent New York Times editorial demonstrates the problem in microcosm. While various parties share blame for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, it opined, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "has been the most intractable, building settlements and blaming his inability to be more forthcoming on his conservative coalition."
In reality, Netanyahu is the only prime minister in Israel's history to impose a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction, a move even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared "unprecedented." Indeed, there has been less construction in the West Bank – and East Jerusalem – during his term than under his predecessors. But he gets no credit for this; instead, he's the premier who obstructs peace by "building settlements." So what incentive would he have to make further such gestures?
As for being insufficiently "forthcoming," Netanyahu, like all his predecessors, has repeatedly expressed willingness to cede most of the West Bank; what he's refused to do is cede the entire territory in advance. By contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hasn't yet agreed to cede anything Israel wants (settlement blocs, the "right of return," recognition as a Jewish state, etc.), but the Times omits him entirely from its list of parties who share the blame. So Netanyahu, who has already ceded most of the West Bank, is "intractable," but Abbas, who has ceded nothing, is blame-free. Given this, what incentive does Netanyahu have to make further concessions?
The problem, of course, is that on this issue, the Times accurately reflects the international consensus – not merely on Netanyahu, but on Israel as a whole. For the last 18 years, Israel has offered nonstop concessions. It evacuated territory and uprooted settlements; it repeatedly offered a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of East Jerusalem; it even offered to cede Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount. Throughout this period, Palestinians haven't offered one singlereciprocal concession – not the settlement blocs, not the "right of return," not recognition of a Jewish state; they won't even acknowledge the Jews' historical connection to this land. Yet still, the world deems Israel the "intransigent" party, the one that must concede even more. Hence most of the Quartet (comprising the U.S., EU, UN and Russia) thinks the appropriate recipe for restarting talks is to demand yet another new concession of Israel –accepting the 1967 lines upfront – while still demanding nothing of the Palestinians.
The consequence of this behavior is that fully 77 percent of Israeli Jews have concluded"it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it." And if there's no quid pro quo for concessions in the form of increased international support, there's obviously no point in continuing to make them.
The only surprising thing is, the world still seems to find this reaction surprising.