In a subsequent interview, Olmert said, "America is not a client state of Israel. ... Why should we want America to be put in a situation where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders from Jerusalem?"
Olmert also criticized Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for comparing Iran to Nazi Germany. "They talk too much, they talk too loud," Olmert said. "They are creating an atmosphere and a momentum that may go out of their control."
The rude treatment of Olmert at the New York conference -- and the readiness of U.S. neoconservatives to denounce American skeptics of a war with Iran as "anti-Semites" -- suggest that Netanyahu has already succeeded in whipping his U.S. supporters into another war frenzy.
But the new accounts of dissent from within the top ranks of the Israeli government reveal something else that I personally witnessed during my frequent trips to Israel in the early 1990s: there is often a more honest and robust debate about Israeli policies inside Israel than inside the United States where such criticism is often demonized.
Yet, while ugly ad hominem attacks may work well to ensure that most American policymakers stay in lockstep behind Israel, the tactics can prove dangerous to U.S. -- and Israeli -- interests by convincing hardliners like Netanyahu that they can dictate American policy whenever they wish.
For instance, in May 2011, Netanyahu sat in the Oval Office and lectured Obama about how he must view the conflict with the Palestinians and other tensions in the Middle East. Netanyahu rebuked Obama for suggesting that peace talks with the Palestinians use the 1967 borders as a starting point, with territorial swaps from both sides.
Though Obama had specifically called for land swaps, Netanyahu told him that Israel "cannot go back to the 1967 lines ... because these lines are indefensible. They don't take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."
In other words, the Likud, which spearheaded the drive to move hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers onto what was Palestinian territory on the West Bank, now is insisting that the placement of those settlements wiped out the value of the 1967 borders, the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel.
After scolding Obama, Netanyahu went to Capitol Hill to receive a hero's welcome from both Republicans and Democrats, who competed to see who could jump to their feet the fastest and most often. The sycophantic behavior signaled to Netanyahu that Israel still had a free hand to do whatever it wanted even if that meant defying Obama.
Netanyahu got cheers when he alluded to the religious nationalism that relies on Biblical authority for Israel's right to possess the West Bank where millions of Palestinians live. Calling the area by its Biblical names, Netanyahu declared, "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers."
Though Netanyahu said he was prepared to make painful concessions for peace, including surrendering some of this "ancestral Jewish homeland," his belligerent tone suggested that he was moving more down the route of annexation that Likud's deputy speaker Danny Danon outlined in a New York Times op-ed before Netanyahu's trip.
Danon said if the Palestinians sought United Nations recognition for their own state on the West Bank, which they have since done, Israel should annex the territory. "We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities [i.e. the settlements] and uninhabited lands of the West Bank," Danon wrote.
As for Palestinian towns, they would become mini-Gazas under Danon's plan, cut off from the world and isolated as enclaves with no legal status. "Moreover, we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue to live in their own -- unannexed -- towns," Danon wrote.
By excluding these Palestinian ghettos, Jews would still maintain a majority in this Greater Israel under Danon's plan. "These Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population," he wrote.
In other words, the Israeli Right has been charting a course toward a de facto apartheid, if not outright ethnic cleansing by willfully making life so crushing for the Palestinians that they have no choice but to leave.