Consider the view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On the one hand, Benjamin Netanyahu keeps doing things—like expanding settlements and refusing to accept the 1967 lines as the parameters for peace talks—that U.S. officials consider bad for America and catastrophic for Israel. On the other, every time President Obama has tried to make Netanyahu change course—in 2009 when he demanded a settlement freeze and in 2011 when he set parameters for peace talks—the White House has been politically clobbered. Administration officials might like to orchestrate Netanyahu’s defeat in next month’s Israeli elections, as Bill Clinton did when he sent political consultants to convince Israelis to replace Netanyahu with Ehud Barak in 1999. But they can’t because Netanyahu has no serious rivals for power. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert isn’t running; the centrist party he once led, Kadima, has largely collapsed, and the head of the center-left Labor Party is advertising her willingness to be a junior partner in another Netanyahu government.
So instead of confronting Netanyahu directly, Team Obama has hit upon a different strategy: stand back and let the rest of the world do the confronting. Once America stops trying to save Israel from the consequences of its actions, the logic goes, and once Israel feels the full brunt of its mounting international isolation, its leaders will be scared into changing course. “The tide of global opinion is moving [against Israel],” notes one senior administration official. And in that environment, America’s “standing back” is actually “doing something.”