There's an old adage about politicians who like to talk the talk but are afraid to walk the walk. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where leaders on both sides have missed repeated opportunities, frequently deliberately, to make peace. All too often each man would rather demagogue the issue and claim the purity of his own intentions while blaming the other for all that has gone wrong.
There's more than enough blame to go around and barely enough good will to cover the head of a pin.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas had disappointing similar messages when they addressed the UN General Assembly last week: I want peace, I am ready to make peace and the only thing preventing peace is the other guy's intransigence.
Neither was very convincing.
Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, “I am prepared to immediately, immediately, resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions whatsoever….I remain committed to a vision of two states for two peoples."
He has a credibility problem. Few believe him after he promised supporters in his election campaign seven months ago that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Attempts to walk that back were unconvincing. President Barack Obama said there would be no change in the strategic relationship but he would "reevaluate" his administration's political/diplomatic approach in light of those remarks. That's sure to come up when Netanyahu meets with him at the White House November 9.
While Netanyahu was expressing his questionable support for two states last week in New York, his top diplomat, deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, and his new UN ambassador, Danny Danon, both member of his Likud party, were saying just the opposite. Both are outspoken opponents of Palestinian statehood and have said they would do all in their power to prevent it. Back home, Netanyahu's top negotiator with the Palestinians, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon feel much the same.
Netanyahu has never asked his own Likud Party or any coalition he headed to endorse the two state approach. And his UN speech was full of attacks on the Palestinians, but he offered no vision for peace, no hint of a timetable, no mention of the shape of the two states.
If Netanyahu is bluffing about wanting peace, so is Abbas.
Abbas' UN speech was anything but conciliatory, however. It was inflammatory and filled with venom and lies.
His failure to condemn last week's murder of a mother and father in front of four of their children and to rebuke some senior figures in his Fatah faction who have praised recent attacks on unarmed civilians as heroic acts, was unconscionable to Israelis.
At the UN podium he used words like "colonial military occupation," "brutality of aggression and racial discrimination," "breach of international humanitarian law," "ethnic cleansing," "apartheid," "racist annexation," "the most ferocious enemy of peace" to describe Israel.
Those words of hate – echoing the rhetoric coming from much of Netanyahu's own Likud base — overshadowed his call to "build bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation."
Abbas and Netanyahu each have given the other good reason to doubt his intentions. With Abbas' incendiary language and Bibi's aggressive settlement construction both have shown themselves to be long on rhetoric, short on vision.
Each complains he has no partner for peace, and seems intent on proving that.
Both appear oblivious to the impending tragedy their intransigence ensures.