The past several months have seen Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's popularity wane considerably, with attacks from left and right, and from domestic and foreign opponents, leaving him increasingly isolated. While Arab countries led the fray, European states criticised Netanyahu with increasing regularity. The expression of US displeasure by State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns to a visit by the premier to Jewish settlements in Samaria was seen by some observers as a portent of things to come in Bill Clinton's second term.

NOWHERE HAS the vitriol been as biting as that from Egypt, Israel's peace partner since 1979. For months, Netanyahu's Egyptian detractors have focused on his mental state. In one such remark, Deputy Foreign Minister Adel Al-Safti said: "The fact that Netanyahu has clinical problems with everything pertaining to security necessitates the intervention of a psychiatrist." (RADIO DAMASCUS, Sept. 23).

The newspaper AL-SH'AB described Netanyahu as a "racist and fanatic", and said he "speaks like Hitler about Palestinians and Arabs" (Sept. 10), while the official mouthpiece AL-GOMHURIYA suggested he "cut off his nose, his ears and even his tongue". (Sept. 16)

While President Hosni Mubarak's invective has been relatively restrained by comparison, he too accused Israel of risking peace, and ominously warned that Egypt would not stand aside were war to break out between Israel and Syria (LIBÉRATION, Nov. 18). Some experts have argued that the Egyptian attacks have already gone beyond the verbal. According to the JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE JOURNAL, there was almost certainly an Egyptian hand behind the bloody clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in September.

The journal noted that Egypt was the state most likely to gain from deteriorating relations between Israel and Jordan, and from Arafat's surge in popularity following the riots. Mubarak's own popularity at home and in the Arab world has reportedly soared as a result of his harder line towards Israel since Netanyahu's election victory.

Meanwhile, relations with Jordan's rulers, who alone demonstrated enthusiasm in their embrace of peace with Israel, have also soured since the September conflict, with King Hussein warning:"The Israel-Jordan and Israel-Egypt peace treaties will be endangered if Israel does not carry out all its obligations" (AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT, Oct. 8). Hussein has refused to see Netanyahu or any Israeli minister since. Analysts say the failure of the peace treaty to meet Jordan's economic expectations, and growing internal opposition to peace with the Jewish state, were factors in the cooling of relations.

After months of vacillating over a deal on Israeli withdrawal from Hebron, Palestinian leaders also continued to try bring further pressure to bear on Netanyahu. During a visit to Cairo in early December, Arafat capped dozens of earlier statements which Israel judged as incitement (see page 6) with claims that Israel was massing troops on its borders with Syria. He gloated, too, that more members of the international community now recognized "Palestine" than Israel.

Netanyahu also came under attack from the usual opponents on the Israeli left, who felt he was squandering "goodwill" achieved by the previous government in its relations with the outside world.

Possibly the most damaging criticism came from voices within Netanyahu's traditional constituency, despite the fact that the level of concessions to the Arabs and of terrorism have dropped considerably since Shimon Peres lost power. But as Hebron negotiations dragged on, Hebron's Jews charged that Netanyahu had "yielded on almost all the issues involved".

"The nationalist government that we put into office may bring about the destruction of the Hebron Jewish community," spokesman Noam Arnon warned.

The group Women for Israel's Tomorrow also lost faith in their prime minister. "You promised. We believed. You betrayed" they charged, and accused him of "talking out of both sides of his mouth" over the issue of Hebron. "The beautiful phrases he spoke before the US Congress have turned out to be empty words so far, and disappointment and despair have replaced the high hopes that prevailed following his election," wrote co-chair Ruth Matar.

The right-wing investigative journal INSIDE ISRAEL took a different tack, alleging the premier had been "groomed for leadership by the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York", and was thus a "New World Order" stooge. "CFR-affiliated media such AS CNN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, NEWSWEEK and CFR members [Ted] Koppel and [Larry] King turned Netanyahu into a major political figure. "Since taking office, Netanyahu has fuelled fears of international control by his actions ..." the journal claimed.

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