In negotiating with Israel – about negotiating with the Palestinians – the US must be very firm in getting Israel to make the necessary compromise that peace calls for. The US must create a small conflict in order to resolve a much bigger one.
The reason for this is that Netanyahu has proven himself unwilling or unable to make the difficult choices that peace requires. For over a year the PM’s dominant strategy has been creative obduracy: finding ways to meet President Obama’s positions without actually meeting them (e.g. call for a creation of a Palestinian state with preconditions that no Palestinian will actually accept).
Early on in the negotiations (about negotiations), President Obama came out with a strong opening position (Israel must freeze all settlement construction and enter talks with the Palestinians), Netanyahu employed his strategy of creative obduracy and President Obama caved-in (Secretary Clinton called Netanyahu’s concessions “unprecedented.”) This moved the negotiation between Israel and the US in Netanyahu’s favor (the Netanyahu 4/2 scenario above).
To counter this, the Obama administration would need to do something radical like come up with a solution of its own and threaten to impose it if PM Netanyahu is unwilling or unable to make bold gestures for peace. But imposing a peace plan is not the ideal payoff for the US (risks are too high). Rather, having Israel agree to make the changes that are necessary for productive negotiation with the Palestinians is the optimal outcome (4/2 scenario).
It is true that if PM Netanyahu remains obdurate, then President Obama will have to impose his plan on the parties. However, at this stage of the negotiations, the price of obduracy will also be too high for Netanyahu – recall PM Shamir fate after his public tiff with President Bush and Secretary Baker. The perception of having precipitated a crises with the US is a terrifying prospect for any Israeli politician.
If President Obama pursues this strategy then PM Netanyahu will have no recourse other than to change the opinions of his Hawkish coalition, or to join forces with Kadima and form a new coalition.
* The model above was created by myself and Gabriela Benincasa. It is based on Steven J. Brams Theory of Moves.