Disturbing Arrogance

Netanyahu has a long way to go to vanquish Obama or defeat our enemies, and Israel faces tough challenges on all fronts.

The Israeli public is troubled and worried. The Goldstone report, the outrageous anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, the sharp deterioration in relations with Turkey, whose state television broadcast an anti-Semitic program, and above all, the tireless Iranian effort to obtain nuclear weapons are all difficult issues. But Israel has the capacity to overcome them. It is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's arrogance that should worry the people.

Netanyahu started his current term as prime minister on the right foot. His policy speech at Bar-Ilan University in June was an important step in the right direction, and his explicit statement at a cabinet meeting later that Israel has adopted the solution of two states for two peoples strengthened the prime minister's credibility. Netanyahu also acted cautiously and wisely in the difficult dispute with U.S. President Barack Obama over the construction freeze in the settlements, showing plenty of flexibility. We got the impression that Netanyahu has indeed learned the lessons of his first term as prime minister and improved his ways, but something has happened along that road.

In his usual manner, Netanyahu is becoming enamored with his own achievements, and arrogance is beginning to take control of him. There is no greater danger to Israel than such arrogance. People close to Netanyahu are conveying the message that the magician has returned and that through mere words he will solve all our problems and deal a body blow to Israel's enemies. There is no greater mistake than this. Netanyahu has a long way to go to vanquish Obama or defeat our enemies, and Israel faces tough challenges on all fronts.

Netanyahu's speech at the UN General Assembly in September was outstanding, at the right place at the right time. The General Assembly is not a place where pragmatic policy positions are presented or shaped. It is, in fact, a theater and platform for international public relations. The prime minister, with his famous rhetorical skills, justifiably took advantage of that platform to present correct policy positions and Israel's just cause. He did it very well.

A speech, however, is not a substitute for policy. It might be possible to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for good speeches, but it's not possible to use speeches to navigate the Israeli ship of state through international reality's stormy waters - as good as these speeches may be. Accomplishing this requires wise policy, initiative and tough decisions.

It is regrettable that Netanyahu's vision is skewed strongly to the right. His desire to satisfy the extreme right of his party and coalition, even at the expense of Israel's genuine interests, has worked to his disadvantage. He should have grabbed onto the lifeline that Obama threw him when he spoke of reducing construction in the settlements. Netanyahu should have declared that he was freezing construction in Judea and Samaria for a year, with the exception of Jerusalem, essential public construction and 2,950 housing units which had already been approved.

Such a decision would not have harmed Israel and would have improved our international standing beyond recognition. If the prime minister had conducted himself this way and called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately open negotiations on the basis of such an Israeli decision, the blame for lack of progress in the peace process would have fallen on the Palestinians and the fight against the Goldstone report would have looked entirely different.

It's not too late. Let's hope the prime minister comes to his senses - as soon as possible.