Israel's leaders are used to the old game: The occasional public call from US Presidents to freeze construction to at least present the appearance of impartiality and honest brokerage - accompanied by private winks that it's all for show. At worst, successive Israeli governments knew they could count on an out-sized influence in the US Congress and Senate to whip recalcitrant Presidents into line if they pushed too hard, as George H. W. Bush learned when he threatened to link American aid to issues of construction on occupied Palestinian land.
But even that doesn't seem to be working this time. Shockingly, every branch of the US government seems to have experienced a sea change, stunningly Obama seems to mean no more or less than what he says and an appalled Israeli leadership confronts the terrifying prospect that the old game doesn't work anymore.
Last night, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that the Obama administration "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a confidante. Referring to Clinton's call for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu groused, "What the hell do they want from me?" according to his associate, who added, "I gathered that he heard some bad vibes in his meetings with [U.S.] congressional delegations this week."Is it possible that the Americans have finally realized that giving Israel anything it wants any time it demands it is no more in Israel's interest than anyone else's?
In the 10 days since Netanyahu and President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House, the Obama administration has made clear in public and private meetings with Israeli officials that it intends to hold a firm line on Obama's call to stop Israeli settlements. According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu's dismay, Obama doesn't appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was.
And how will an increasingly aggressive, theocratic and aberrant settler movement that has made frightening inroads into the Israeli Defense Forces react to these possible new geo-political realities?
UPDATE: More from a former US Ambassador:
If you were in the administration today, we said, how would you treat Netanyahu?And The Onion's take:
“I think,” he said, “that Bibi suffers from the fact that many people in the Obama administration know him too well: they were there during Clinton’s time. They have not forgotten.”
JERUSALEM—In a historic speech before the U.N. Tuesday, newly elected Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a comprehensive plan to extend political discord and senseless violence in the Middle East through the next 25 years.