What became clear was that Obama had decided to change tactics, not to say his entire strategy. After the cold and rough attitude he displayed toward the prime minister during their previous meeting, and the widely reported crisis surrounding Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel in March, the American president did a complete 180 in his public attitude toward Netanyahu. In the place of a chill came a hug. Different analysts have offered varying explanations for the change in Obama's approach. It is possible that the American cabinet decided that the original approach had failed and that a warmer approach would prompt Netanyahu to advance peace talks. It is also possible that fear of an adverse effect of tense relations with Israel on Jewish Democratic Party donors, especially ahead of congressional elections, played a role. What remains unclear is what Netanyahu promised Obama in exchange for the hug he received.Aluf Benn, meanwhile, describes a fundamental cynicism in the way American administrations run foreign relations:
When the Americans needed China against the Soviet Union, they ignored both Mao's human rights violations and Taiwan. When China was perceived as an economic threat, the United States announced that it was selling arms to Taiwan, officially hosted the Dalai Lama, and acknowledged that there was censorship in Beijing and opponents of the regime were being persecuted. In relations with Israel, the settlements play the role that Taiwan and Tibet play in relations with China - a permanent problem that is emphasized or ignored depending on need. Are they angry with the prime minister? They remember Sheikh Jarrah and Yitzhar. Do they need Israel, or do they want to caress it because of yet another bit of pseudo-progress in the peace process? They back off the Judea and Samaria planning committee.
In spite of the basic cynicism, however, Benn thinks the turnabout is more substantial than mere posturing in the run-up to November's mid-term elections:
When Obama came into office he assessed that the United States had been weakened in the Middle East and hoped to reach an agreement on sharing influence with the regional power, Iran. So he cooled toward Israel and pulled out of the closet the well-worn club called settlements. But that didn't work. The Iranians waved off Obama's goodwill gesture, and the Arab states ignored the Palestinian issue and made it clear that blocking Iran was more important. As the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington said at a conference last week: "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster, but Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster."
Cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces has become closer and the Americans have opted to emphasize it, unlike their tendency in the past of playing it down. Israel has become a hit in Washington to the point where Shapiro, who praised the defense relationship, went as far as to mention two presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, for supporting a Jewish homeland decades before Herzl. Zionism was born at the White House, and we had no idea.
Not that either or both side won't do lots of stupid things from here on, mind you.