The diplomatic row between the United States and Israel appears to be spiralling out of control. The current upheaval represents a welcome and long overdue opportunity to reorder a relationship that has profound consequences for the region. The task will not be easy, though, given the unusually ill-mannered behaviour between the two sides since last week, when Israel greeted the visiting US vice president Joe Biden by saying that it was building new homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem.
President Obama refused to take a conciliatory call from Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, turning the duty over instead to his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She told the Israeli prime minister that the settlement announcement was "an insult to the United States". Two days later, the president's senior adviser David Axelrod piled on, saying that the announcement had been an "affront" and an "insult" that had "undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region".
Mr Netanyahu has apologised for the timing of the news, but said on Monday that Israel would go ahead and build the 1,600 homes anyway. That defiance spells a long road ahead in attempts to recalibrate US-Israeli ties. That challenge is going to be made more difficult if Mr Netanyahu's government and its American supporters succeed in shifting what so far has been a war of words between governments into a domestic US political debate.
Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, may be right in asserting that the current clash between Israel and the United States signifies a crisis of "historic" proportions - the "worst" since 1975, he said. True or not, Mr Oren's dire assessment is certainly aimed at rallying Israel's American supporters for a fight in the US Congress, where years of diligent lobbying have created a large bloc of almost reflexive support for Israel.
That fight is expected to be taken up in force next week, when America's strongest pro-Israel lobby meets in Washington for its annual conference. Mrs Clinton and Mr Netanyahu are expected to attend. Against this political onslaught, however, Mr Obama must not relent. Israel's humiliation of the US vice president is not the only reason that it is time to turn over a new leaf in American-Israeli relations.
Gen David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, reportedly stunned America's top generals and admirals recently with the warning that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the US was incapable of standing up to Israel. Gen Petraeus's message, delivered by a team of senior military officers from US Central Command, was that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardising US standing in the region and could cost the lives of American soldiers fighting Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We think there is an underlying message here for Mr Netanyahu's government, too, and it was stated most pointedly by Martin Indyk, an ex-US envoy to Israel. Israel should remember, Mr Indyk said this week, that it is dependent on the US, and that Israelis "shouldn't think they're such big shots" in this respect. "They must appreciate that America has interests, too, not just Israel," Mr Indyk said. The sooner they understand this, the better off all of us in the Middle East will be.