Is Obama Aiming to Bring Down Bibi?
The pressure for a settlement freeze is more plausibly aimed at the Netanyahu government itself -- at fracturing and dissolving it -- than towards bringing about a peace settlement, especially when there is nothing remotely approaching reciprocal pressure on the Palestinian side.
3. The U.S. doesn't want Israel to attack Iran and sees a Netanyahu-led government as much more likely to do so than one led by the likes of current opposition leader Livni. Biden has said Israel "would be ill-advised" to move on Iran. Jones has said Israel can "diminish [the] existential threat" posed by Iran's approaching nuclearization -- not by doing anything about it, but "by working hard towards achieving a two-state solution." CIA chief Leon Panetta was sent to Israel to warn expressly against taking action.
The U.S. knows that Netanyahu's existential concern about Iranian nukes is intense and -- though that concern is indeed shared across the Israeli spectrum -- the previous Olmert-Livni government had much more trust in the international community to take care of the problem.
4. The Americans are cognizant that two previous Likud-led coalitions were felled by dissension from the right. In 1992, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government collapsed when the small Tehiya faction -- closely associated with the settlement movement -- bolted the coalition over Israel's participation in the Madrid Conference. In 1999, Netanyahu's first government similarly disintegrated when right-wing factions left it over Netanyahu's agreement to West Bank territorial concessions in the Wye Memorandum.
Given the current low prospects of another peace conference or signed Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the U.S. can best disgruntle, and possibly disaffect, the more right-wing elements of Netanyahu's present coalition by exerting pressure on the settlement issue. Netanyahu has already had to reassure perturbed Knesset members from his own party over assenting to Obama's demand to remove some small unauthorized West Bank outposts.
At a time of mounting peril, it is hard for the Netanyahu government or most of the Israeli population to see the Obama administration as much of a faithful ally. It warns Israel against hitting Iran while announcing its own leisurely timeline of talking with the mullahs until the end of the year. While Israel needs unity, Obama foments internal tensions regarding "natural growth."
Netanyahu, Barak, and crew -- if they can hold it together -- have a hard road ahead.