Editor's Note: (Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President." Miller was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.)
(CNN) Is the Joe Biden-Naftali Bennett honeymoon over? It would seem so. Everywhere one looks these days there appears to be disagreement and division between Washington and Jerusalem. Noisy tensions appear to be brewing over any number of issues including settlements, the currently closed Jerusalem consulate and Israel designating six human rights organizations as terror groups.
But look closer, and a more complex dynamic is visible. The Bennett government -- at least its right-wing elements -- seems persuaded that Biden is too busy; too worried about right-wing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's potential return, should the Bennett-led coalition collapse; and too fearful of domestic fallout, which always hangs over a US president feuding with Israel, to really get tough with Israel on any of these matters.
And there's a very good chance the Israelis are reading Biden's priorities correctly. Indeed, the one issue on which they don't appear to be spatting -- at least publicly -- is Iran. For Biden, the Palestinian issue isn't ready for prime time, and the Iran nuclear issue could be headed for prime trouble.
Maintaining close ties with Israel, even if it means sacrificing America's already shredded credibility on the Palestinian issue, is good politics and smart policy.
Few might have predicted in June, when the Bennett government was first sworn in, that there would be a spate of issues piling up that could sow discord between the two allies. Sure, Bennett took office as a right-wing Prime Minister who could easily have fit in a Likud government. But the current coalition had left and centrist elements too, to keep him in check. Despite his politics, Bennett carried less US-related baggage than Netanyahu, who had alienated Democrats with overtures to Republicans.
And besides, all in Bennett's coalition have had a common interest in avoiding contentious issues like the Palestinian problem that, were they to rise to the forefront and spark division among Israel's fragile ruling order, might cause the government to collapse and bring Netanyahu back into power.
Evidently, that was Biden's calculation, too. The US President called Bennett to congratulate him within hours of the new Israeli government's swearing-in. Indeed, Bennett was the only world leader to visit Washington during Biden's Afghan withdrawal crisis in August. If anything, it seemed the two leaders had agreed to a close bond with one another. Biden referred to an "unshakable partnership" during their White House meeting.
Biden seems to have banked on Bennett being constrained from taking steps that might embarrass him; too worried about his own government's potential collapse; and too smart and too weak, in his domestic-political standing, to push the US into a corner. And Bennett seemed to believe Biden was too focused on his own domestic concerns to bother much with the Palestinian issue, let alone pick a fight with Israel.
Over the past few months, however, the Israelis have pushed the envelope -- and seem to have forgotten their side of the bargain. Seemingly under pressure from his own base and from his right-wing partners, Bennett and his government have taken several actions that have drawn hard looks and responses from the Biden administration.
First, a large number of settlement housing units has been approved -- the first by the new Israeli government -- many deep in the West Bank. That drew a harsh response from the Biden administration. Indeed, the projects were approved despite a warning from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Minister of Defense Benny Gantz.
At the same time, Israel appears to be advancing plans for construction of other long-planned housing projects -- Givat Hamatos and E-1 -- that if completed would virtually divide Jerusalem from the West Bank and further bury already distant hopes for a two-state solution.
Second, a battle appears to be looming over the reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem, through which Washington formerly liaised directly with the Palestinians, and which Biden pledged to reopen after Trump had closed it in 2019.
Originally seen by the US administration as a low-cost way of restoring the pre-Trump status quo and strengthening ties with the Palestinians, the issue has become hot and volatile, as the Israeli right wing views it as a Trojan horse designed to divide Jerusalem. Others worry it could trigger the collapse of Bennett's government. Not surprisingly, Republicans in Congress have jumped on the issue with legislation designed to prevent the Biden administration from acting and by painting Biden as appeasing the Palestinians and dividing Jerusalem.
The Bennett government isn't sleepwalking into a potential crisis. It seems to have made a judgment that the Biden administration has no stomach for a fight. That may well be a safe bet.
On settlements, the US administration has confined its reaction to tough words, but no action. On the consulate, the administration had already promised to delay reopening it until after the Israeli budget passes; the latest thinking conveyed to Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid by Secretary of State Blinken was to appoint a small working group to work out a solution -- a sure sign that what's in store is more delay.
Not pushing harder on settlements and the consulate will undermine the administration's credibility and will disappoint those who expected Biden to reverse his predecessor's policies, particularly toward the Palestinians. But governing is about choosing. And in the greater scheme of things, the Biden administration has all but written off the Palestinian issue as a low priority -- not ready for prime time and not worth the investment of badly needed political capital, especially when the administration is struggling at home.
The trouncing Democrats took this past Tuesday -- when Republicans swept statewide elections in Virginia and showed better than expected in New Jersey's governor race -- has only deepened the importance of husbanding limited political capital and reducing the Biden administration's exposure.
Indeed, the last thing Biden wants or needs now is a fight with Israelis, Republicans and maybe even a few Democrats over Jerusalem.
Instead, with the nuclear negotiations with Iran set to resume on November 29, Biden should keep his powder dry in the event those negotiations make progress and he encounters real pushback from Israel and those in Congress who oppose returning to the old nuclear deal without correcting its deficiencies.