For decades, the number one rule of ally-to-ally diplomacy governing America's relations with our closest friends was simple and straightforward: We settled our differences in private.
But when President Barack Obama's administration took office three years ago, that axiom appeared to fall out of practice -- at least when it came to the U.S. relationship with Israel.
The White House struck a confrontational stance with Israel from the outset, choosing to elevate the issue of Jewish housing construction across the 1949 armistice lines, even in Israel's capital city of Jerusalem, as the fundamental issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The administration also refused to acknowledge prior understandings between the United States and Israel -- breaking with American promises that had come in conjunction with irreversible Israeli concessions.
Some, like Michael Lerner of the fringe-left Tikkun magazine and self-proclaimed "pro-Israel and pro-peace" group J Street, an old-wine new-bottle version of groups long calling for pressure on Israel, cheered the White House's approach. Many were frequent visitors to the West Wing. Their calls for an increasingly confrontational style with the Jewish state were suddenly en vogue.
In more recent months, however, things have changed. As ideology gave way to reality, longtime Middle East hands and mainstream pro-Israel organizations, which have long argued the Obama administration's publicly confrontational approach was faulty, appear to have won the White House over to their side.
This transformation was on full display during the president's remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, which has gathered 14,000 people in Washington to voice their support for a close U.S.-Israel relationship. "[T]here should not be a shred of doubt by now," Obama said. "When the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
The tension of the past has given way to a less confrontational style from the Obama administration -- and none too soon. But was it soon enough? And will it be enough to overcome the deficit of trust between Obama and Netanyahu?
Trust matters. History teaches us that progress toward peace is most likely when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel, and that public spats undermine trust and encourage recalcitrance among the Palestinians -- who in turn make no concessions, waiting for the Americans to deliver Israel.
Above all, the looming threat of Iran's nuclear program calls for an extraordinary relationship of trust to ensure the closest possible cooperation between the United States and Israel. It's impossible to exaggerate the weight of responsibility resting on the Israeli prime minister, charged with safeguarding the people of Israel after millennia of Jewish life being subject to the whims of others.
Even when the personal relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president are as close as imaginable, it is a very high bar for an Israeli leader to put the future security of the Jewish people in the hands of another, especially when faced with the truly intolerable threat coming from a nuclear Iran -- which has pledged to annihilate the Jewish state.