After more than a year, US president Barack Obama has suddenly stepped back form his icy treatment of Israel and its prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, debkafile's Washington sources report. In an effort to make amends, he sent his top advisers, including his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, with a public apology (of a kind) to leading American rabbis.
Our sources add that under new White House guidelines, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell should not try and extract from Israel more concessions that it is willing to offer, when he leads the proximity talks with the Palestinians starting this week.
The Obama U-turn dashes Palestinian hopes of the US president holding his own solution ready to impose on Israel in the event of the talks foundering or winding down in September without progress.
Political and Jewish circles see the change as an attempt win back Jewish voter support for the Democrats, eroded over the downturn in US-Israel relations, for the forthcoming midterm elections.
debkafile's Washington sources stress that the context is a lot wider. The US president knows the time has come to count his assets in the face of the dramatic big power realignment in the Middle East and the diplomatic impasse over Iran's drive for a nuclear bomb.
After fourteen months in the White House, Barack Obama has suddenly discovered that he has no other strategic ally in the region to rely on except for Israel.
Netanyahu may be justified in crowing over his critics at home. His decision to stand up to the US president's cold shoulder, insults and pressure, has been vindicated, whereas defense minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Liivni have been confounded in their dire warnings that refusal to surrender in a big way to the Palestinians would gravely jeopardize US-Israel relations.
A senior source in Washington told debkafile Sunday, May 16, that the Israeli prime minister has chalked up an impressive achievement; he can expect warmth and friendship from the administration in the foreseeable future in place of the coolness hitherto.
This does not mean Obama has given up on his objective of a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians, but the arm-twisting tactics have been set aside for now.
Obama's new look on Israel was manifested in the words of Rahm Emanuel, when he met a carefully selected group of 15 rabbis from across the United States Thursday, May 13 along with fellow White House officials, including Dennis Ross, senior presidential adviser on Iran and Dan Shapiro, head of Middle East desk at the National Security Council.
Emanuel was the most outspoken when he said the Obama administration had "screwed up the messaging" about his support for Israel over the past 14 months. He promised the White House would work to undo the damage, but said it would take "more than one month to make up for 14 months."
Whether or not the Netanyahu government will be satisfied with this crudely-worded White House "apology" -addressed to American Jewish rabbis rather than Jerusalem – remains to be seen. Much will depend on the actions the Obama administration takes to undo the damage to which it has now owned up.