It was Obama's rise that forced Netanyahu to confront the issue of Palestinian statehood in the first place. He had always doubted Palestinian intentions, and he was, in any case, ideologically committed to settling Judea and Samaria, the ancient Jewish names for the territory of the West Bank. In 2009, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu, under pressure from Obama (with whom he then had a semi-functional relationship), announced his support for the creation of a Palestinian state: "In this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect," he said. "Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other."
Through the intervening years, Netanyahu maintained his rhetorical commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, even as he continued to expand West Bank settlements, and even as he frustrated his American friends by dodging Biden's cross. He had a partner in avoidance, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who proved to be an irresolute partner in peace, to put it mildly. But it was on Netanyahu to break through the morass—he was the one who controlled the territory on which the Palestinian state would be created.
President Obama's main criticism of Netanyahu—at least until the latest Iran-centered crisis—was that he was not, in fact, willing to risk political capital for the sake of compromise. In an interview in 2013, Obama told me that his message for Netanyahu was simple: "If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Obama went on to say that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach," adding, "It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
Despite his doubts, Obama allowed his secretary of state, John Kerry, a sincere believer in the possibility of peace, to pursue negotiations. Kerry and his chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, threw themselves at the problem with enthusiasm. American negotiators became convinced, to varying degrees, that Netanyahu would soon make the bold move they were hoping for. Even Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who watched her husband grow frustrated with Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister, in the 1990s, came to believe that he had changed. "I saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it, to considering all kinds of [Ehud] Barak-like options, way far from what he is, and what he is comfortable with," Clinton told me last summer.
Yesterday, Netanyahu announced to the world that this analysis was incorrect. In a fight for his political life against an opponent he did not take seriously, Netanyahu attempted to shore up his right-wing base by renouncing the commitment he made at Bar-Ilan. "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel," he said in an interview with a right-leaning Israeli website. "There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders." And earlier today, he played the role of demagogue, warning his right-wing base that the left was encouraging Arab Israelis to vote, in order to sink his government.