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Biden and Netanyahu Both Hope the Other Is Out of Power Soon

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

This week, U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated yet again why theirs is the foreign policy world’s worst marriage.

They don’t share the same goals. They don’t trust each other. And they just can’t seem to communicate.

It is no wonder that both—as well as those close to each of them—spend much of their time hoping for a divorce and a chance at happiness with a new partner. The reality, however, is that those hopes are not likely to come to fruition and we may be enduring the consequences of this dysfunctional relationship for quite some time to come.

A Gaza Ceasefire Deal Is the Only Way to Avoid a Wider War

The most obvious sign of the failure of the two sides to communicate came earlier this week. President Biden stated that based on what his team was telling him, a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas and for a ceasefire in Gaza was imminent. He said, in fact, that he expected it by Monday, March 4.

Netanyahu’s response was swift and, as has become the pattern with him, directly contradictory to the word and the spirit of what Biden said. The Israeli prime minister said that such a deal happening on that timeline was news to him. He added that any agreement to release the hostages would merely postpone— rather than halt—an Israeli ground operation of Rafah.

Admittedly, the entire issue of a ceasefire has been clouded by a swirl of contradictory statements and competing points of view, as often happens in complex negotiations. Hamas also stated that a deal was not near. Meanwhile, the president of Egypt said he expected a breakthrough might be possible “in the next few days.”

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet.

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet.

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

NSC spokesperson John Kirby indicated progress was being made on negotiations, but that while he was hopeful an agreement could be reached “in coming days,” he resisted promising one before the beginning of Ramadan (March 10), an oft-cited target date.

U.S. officials have long hoped that getting a hostage deal of some kind (likely involving an exchange of perhaps 40-50 Israeli hostages, plus a significantly larger number of Palestinians) and a few weeks’ pause in fighting might result in a kind of reset in the crisis. This could offer an opportunity for more negotiations, better opportunities to address the profound humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, and other steps that could make the resumption of hostilities less likely.

If there is one step the Biden team has been hoping for but loathe to acknowledge, it is that a pause in the fighting might lead to a change in the Israeli political calculus, the break in the war footing that could lead to a move to replace Netanyahu in the Knesset or a new election that could have the same consequence.

Revealingly, this parallels the wish held by Netanyahu and his associates that if they can hold on long enough, it might be Biden who is the one replaced by the American people come this November.

In both cases, the participants in this unhappy marriage are harboring hopes that they could move on to a partner more in line with their way of thinking, values and objectives.

Mitch McConnell Could Have Been One of the Greats, but Trump Beat Him

The sad reality for those affected by the current crisis—and the knock-on effects of the alienation of affection between Washington and Jerusalem—is that the chances of a knight on a white horse riding up soon to whisk them away to a happier tomorrow are slim to none. As Israeli columnist and former diplomat Alon Pinkas recently noted, the two top Israeli alternatives to Netanyahu are really not likely to be that much different from the current prime minister in terms of their views regarding Gaza or the larger Palestinian crisis.

At the same time—fortunately for the U.S. but not for Netanyahu—Joe Biden is more likely than not to win in November. He and the Democrats continue to outperform pollster prognostications, while Trump faces an extreme number of legal problems, and opposition within his own party seems (based on the primary results) to be solidly at around 25-30 percent—which does not bode well for the general.

Palestinians walk past buildings destroyed during Israeli strikes in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.

Palestinians walk past buildings destroyed during Israeli strikes in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza.

AFP via Getty Images

Of course, Netanyahu has his own legal problems and really doesn’t want to leave office, giving him a significant incentive to make statements that the war will continue after any ceasefire. He has also made it absolutely clear that however divergent his views may be with Biden now, the gap is only going to get worse. For the clearest proof of that, see the Israeli prime minister’s hugely unconstructive non-starter of a “day after plan,” which is antithetical to most stated U.S. objectives.

In short, while any deal resulting in the release of hostages and a respite from the horrors of the current Gaza war is to be welcomed, expectations that it would lead to anything even remotely resembling an end to the current crisis are, sadly, very unrealistic. The pain and suffering in Gaza is likely to continue or to resume.

If that is the case, the U.S. should take steps to preserve the good will that has been the foundation of the U.S.-Israeli relationship for so long by explicitly conditioning U.S. aid flows to that country as we do with all other recipients of U.S. military and financial support.

Biden Administration’s Relationship With Netanyahu Government Has Turned Toxic

Netanyahu must come to understand that if his goals and policies diverge from those of the U.S., we will not support them. Biden should make the case for America’s approach directly to the people of Israel, much as Netanyahu has done in the past in the U.S.

And the U.S. should actively work in all available forums to seek a lasting ceasefire and a realistic path to Palestinian and Israeli security—whether our approaches are embraced by the Israeli government or not.

That may not be the formula for a great marriage between Netanyahu and Biden. But it is the only way to preserve the hope for successful future relationships between the leaders of the U.S., Israel, and all the other countries impacted by the current conflict with whom we share aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous future.

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