Netanyahu - Emil Salman - Feb. 16, 2011
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Feb. 16, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the political turmoil in Arab states with renewed entrenchment in his right-wing views. In his address to the Knesset last week the prime minister warned that the regional instability could last for years, patted himself on the back for opposing the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and spoke in favor of a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley as part of a future agreement with the Palestinians, to keep Iran from "walking into" the West Bank.

Netanyahu described himself as being disappointed by the refusal of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate. Netanyahu is ostensibly willing to talk with the Palestinians, but he offers them nothing beyond the future recognition - laden with preconditions - of a Palestinian state. He is not open to a change in the territorial status quo, and insists on going ahead with the expansion of the settlements, which undermines the chances for compromise.

In such circumstances it is understandable that the international community views Netanyahu's talk of peace as empty words meant to buy time in order to perpetuate the right's control of the government and to bolster the settlement enterprise. The U.S. veto prevented the harsh condemnation of the settlements by the UN Security Council, but the voting underlined Israel's growing isolation.

Netanyahu's position causes even friendly leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to turn her back to him. "You did nothing to advance peace," Merkel told the prime minister when he called her to complain about Germany's support for the Security Council resolution, according to a report by Barak Ravid in Friday's Haaretz. Netanyahu promised Merkel that he will soon issue a new peace proposal, but the German chancellor was not inclined to believe him.

It is precisely during times of regional instability and uncertainty that Israel needs the support of the international community. But the Netanyahu government prefers to turn its back to the world and to barricade itself within Hebron and Beit El, Ofra and Yitzhar. Its policy is causing serious harm to Israel's national interests and will only impede Israel's integration into the new regional order that is taking shape. Netanyahu must heed the warnings of friendly leaders and put forth a practical peace plan - and not another attempt to use high-flown rhetoric to get the world off his back.