An interesting piece. Key line: “According to former administration officials and outside advisers briefed on some White House meetings, Emanuel, in particular, thought Netanyahu could be pressured to make concessions, just as he had in the 1990s.”
The article suggests that this wasn’t true because Netanyahu had learned in 1999 that if he made concessions he’d lose his base. I suspect that this is wrong, and the reasons Netanyahu was more willing to take on Obama than he was Clinton include: (1) Clinton was very popular with Israelis in the late 1990s. Obama was very unpopular with Israelis in 2009, in part for reasons explicated in the article–Obama had decided to make a show of publicly talking tough with Israel, while being rather meek in dealing with, e.g., Arab countries’ unwillingness to make even minor concessions to Israel (like civilian aircraft overflights) that Obama had requested. Among other things, Obama’s Cairo speech was not well-received by an already-suspicious Israeli public; (2) Israeli public opinion had hardened in the ensuing decade, after concessions in the Clinton years and withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon had seemed to make their security situation worse; and (3) the absolute settlement freeze Obama demanded seemed to contradict Bush-era understandings that certain core settlements would be expected to go to Israel in any peace settlement. Not mentioned in the article is that when Israeli officials noted Bush Administration written assurances to Israel, the Obamaites responded, essentially, that they didn’t give a rat’s patootie what the prior administration had told Israel. This wasn’t exactly the way to build confidence among Israelis that if Israel grants concessions in exchange for American promises of support that these promises would be worth anything in the future.
Another telling detail in the article is an Obama Administration official making the nonsensical and in fact incoherent assertion that Netanyahu is “essentially a Republican.” I’ve always expected that the Obamaites really disliked Netanyahu, and thought they could force him out in favor of a more pliable leader. Instead, Netanyahu’s coalition commands an overwhelming majority in parliament, and is much more likely to be prime minister in 2013 than Obama is to be president.