Mr Obama has himself to blame. He staked his foreign policy on improving relations in the Middle East. Early in his presidency, Israeli leaders worried that US policy towards them may turn less forgiving. But when Mr Netanyahu flouted US demands on settlements last year, secretary of state Hillary Clinton blinked. Whereas Mr Biden says there is “no space” between the two countries on security, the rather wider space between the White House and Congress weakens both Mr Mitchell’s and Mrs Clinto’s hands.
Mr Netanyahu, counting on support on Capitol Hill, reckons he can win any game of chicken with the White House. He may be right that Congress will not stop aid; but Mr Obama has other levers. If he took a leaf out of the Bush-Baker book in 1991 and signalled that Israel could no longer take unconditional US support for granted, Mr Netanyah’s domestic support would quickly evaporate.