© The Beltway ReportIsraeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu • US President Joe Biden
The inattention to reality is not an electorally 'incidental' and irksome issue that needs better PR management by the campaign team.

Alon Pinkas, a former senior Israeli diplomat, well-plugged into Washington, tells us that a frustrated White House finally has "had enough".The rupture with Netanyahu is complete:
The Prime Minister does not comport himself as 'an U.S. ally' should; he severely criticises Biden's Middle East policies, and now the United States has come to understand this fact.
Biden cannot afford any further Israel-affects to jeopardise his electoral campaign, and so - as his State of the Union Speech makes clear - he will double-down on misconstrued policy frameworks for both Israel and Ukraine.

So what does Biden intend to do about Netanyahu's act of defiance against the 'holy grail' of U.S. policy recommendations? Well, he invited Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's War Cabinet to Washington, and wrapped him around an agenda "reserved for a prime minister, or someone they think will, or should be, premier". Officials apparently thought that by initiating a visit outside of usual diplomatic protocols, they may "have unleashed a dynamic that could lead to an election in Israel", Pinkas notes, resulting in a leadership more amenable to U.S. ideas.

It was clearly intended as a first step to 'soft power' régime change.

And the prime reason for the declaration of war on Netanyahu? Gaza. Biden apparently didn't appreciate the snub received in the Michigan primary when the Gaza protest vote surpassed 100,000 'uncommitted votes'. Polls - especially amongst the young - are flashing red warning signals for November (in no small part because of Gaza). Democratic national leaders are beginning to worry.

Leading Israeli commentator, Nahum Barnea, warns that Israel is "loosing America":
"We are accustomed to thinking of America in familial terms ... We receive weapons and international backing and the Jews give their votes in the key states and money to the campaigns. This time, the situation is different ... Since the votes in [presidential] elections are counted regionally, only a few states ... actually decide ... Like Florida, [a] key state, where the votes of the Jews can decide who will move into the White House, so too can the votes of the Muslims in Michigan decide ... [Activists] called on the primary voters to vote "uncommitted" to protest Biden's support for Israel ... Their campaign succeeded beyond expectations: 130,000 Democratic voters supported it. The slap in the face to Biden reverberated across the entire length and breadth of the political establishment. It not only attested to the rise of a new, efficient and toxic political lobby, [but] also to the revulsion that many Americans feel when they see the pictures from Gaza. Biden loves Israel and is truly afraid for it but he has no intention of losing the elections because of it. That is an existential threat."
The problem however, is the converse: It is that U.S. policy is deeply flawed, and wholly incongruent with majority public sentiment in Israel. Many Israelis feel they are fighting an existential struggle, and must not become 'just fodder' (as they see it) to a U.S. Democratic electoral strategy.

The reality is that Israel is rupturing with Team Biden - not the converse.

Biden's key plan which rests on a revitalised Palestinian security apparatus is described - even in the Washington Post - as 'improbable'. The U.S. tried a PA security 'revitalising' initiative under U.S. General Zinni in 2002 and Dayton in 2010. It did not work - and for good reason: Palestinian Authority security forces are simply viewed by most Palestinians as the hated stooges enforcing continued Israeli occupation. They work to Israeli security interests, not Palestinian security interests.

The other main components to U.S. policy is an even more improbable 'de-radicalised' and anaemic 'two-state solution', buried within a regional concert of conservative Arab States acting as its security overseer. This policy approach reflects a White House out of kilter with today's more eschatological Israel, and one failing to move on from perspectives and policies hailing from decades past which, even then, were failures.

The White House therefore has resorted to an old trick: To project all of its own policy failings onto a foreign leader for not making the 'unworkable' work, and to try to replace that leader with someone more compliant. Pinkas writes:
"Once the United States became convinced that Netanyahu was not being cooperative, not being a considerate ally, behaving like a crude ingrate ... focused only on his political survival after the October 7 debacle, the time was ripe to try a new political course."
However, Netanyahu's policy - for better or worse - reflects what a majority of Israelis think. Netanyahu has his well-known personality defects and is seriously unpopular in Israel, yet that does not mean that a plurality disagrees with his, and his government's programme.

So "enter Gantz", unleashed by Team Biden as prospective PM-in-waiting into the Washington and London diplomatic pool.

Except that the ploy didn't work as expected. As Ariel Kahana writes (in Hebrew, in Israel Hayom on 6 March):
Gantz met with all of the top administration officials with the exception of President Biden, and presented positions that are identical to the positions that Netanyahu has presented in his talks with them over the past number of weeks.

Not destroying Hamas in Rafah means sending a fire truck to put out 80% of the fire, Gantz told Sullivan. Harris and other officials retorted that it would be impossible to evacuate 1.2 million Gazans from the Rafah area — an evacuation that they view as an essential precondition for any military operation in that southern Gaza Strip city. Gantz flatly disagreed.

Even larger gaps came to the fore in discussions about humanitarian aid. Whereas many Israelis are livid about the decision to allow the delivery of supplies to the enemy — [which they view as] an act that has helped Hamas, has prolonged the war and has delayed a hostage deal — the Americans believe that Israel isn't doing enough. Biden's aides have even accused Israeli officials of lying about the quantity of aid that has been delivered and the pace of its delivery.
Aid of course, has become (rightly) the neuralgic issue pressing on the Democratic Party's electoral prospects, but Gantz was not having it. As Kahana notes:
Regrettably, the most senior American officials are also out of touch with reality when it comes to other aspects of the war as well. They still believe that the Palestinian Authority should govern Gaza, that peace can be achieved in the future by means of the "two-state solution," and that a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia is within reach. Gantz was forced to address that flawed reading of the situation."
So, U.S. administration officials heard from Gantz the very same policy agenda that Netanyahu has repeated to them in recent months. Gantz also warned that trying to 'play him off' against Netanyahu was pointless. He might very much wish to replace Netanyahu as prime minister at some point, but his policies wouldn't be substantively different from those of the present government, he explained.

Now that the visit is over and now that Gantz has said what he said, the White House is coming to terms with a new experience:
The limitations to U.S. power and to automatic compliance by other states - even the closest of allies.
The U.S. can neither force its will on Israel, nor compel an 'Arab Contact Group' to come into being, nor compel a putative Arab Contact Group to support and fund Biden's "fantastical" Gaza 'solutions'.

It is a salutary moment for U.S. power.

Netanyahu is an experienced 'old Washington hand'. He prides himself on his ability to read U.S. politics well. No doubt he calculates that whilst Biden can raise the rhetoric a pitch or two, the latter is on a tight leash in respect to how much of a gap he can open between him and the Jewish mega-donors in an election year.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, seemingly has concluded that he can safely ignore Washington - at least for the next ten months.

Biden is desperate for a ceasefire; but even here - on the hostage issue, on which the U.S. policy array stands or falls - the U.S. has a 'tin ear'. A last minute demand is made to Hamas to say which of the original hostages are alive.

The request may seem reasonable to outsiders, yet the U.S. must know that neither Hizbullah, nor Hamas, give hostage 'proof of life' for free: there is a cost in terms of the exchange ratio for dead bodies and for live hostages. (There is a long history of Israeli failed 'proof of life' demands).

Reports indicate that Israel is refusing to agree on withdrawal from Gaza; it is refusing to allow Palestinians from northern Gaza to return to their homes, and it is refusing to agree to a comprehensive ceasefire.

All these are original Hamas demands - they are not new. Why should it surprise or offend Biden when they are repeated again. It is not an escalation of demands by Sinwar (as the western and Israeli media allege). It reflects rather, an unrealistic negotiating strategy embraced by Washington.

According to Al-Quds newspaper, Hamas has presented in Cairo "a final document that is not subject to negotiation". This includes, inter alia, a demand to halt the fighting in Gaza for a full week before executing a hostage-release deal, and a clear Israeli statement about full withdrawal from the Strip - complete with international guarantees:
Hamas is also demanding that all Gazans have the unconditional right to return to their homes, as well as to the entry of supplies to the entire Gaza Strip without security division, beginning on the first day of the deal. According to the Hamas document, the release of hostages would begin a week after the ceasefire begins. Hamas rejects Israel's demand that any of its members or leaders be exiled and sent abroad. (This occurred in the release of hostages from the Church of Nativity siege, where a number of Palestinians were exiled to EU states - an act that was heavily criticised at the time.)
In a separate clause, Hamas has said:
Neither it, nor any other Palestinian groups, would provide a list of hostages until 48 hours before implementing the deal. The list of prisoners Hamas is demanding to be released is long, and includes the release of 57 people who were released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal and subsequently re-arrested; all female and minor security prisoners; all sick security prisoners and everyone over the age of 60.
According to the report, only after the first stage is completed will negotiations on the next stage of a deal begin.

These demands should not surprise anyone. It is all too common that people with little experience believe that hostage deals can be reached relatively easily and quickly, by means of rhetoric, media and diplomatic pressure. The history is different. The average time to agree a hostage release is more than a year.

Team Biden urgently needs to reassess its approach, starting from the understanding that it is Israel that is rupturing from the stale, ill-judged U.S. consensus. Most Israelis agree with Netanyahu, who said again yesterday that "the war is existential and must be won".

How is it that Israel can contemplate severing from the U.S.? Possibly because Netanyahu understands that the 'power structure' in the U.S. - as in Europe - that controls much, if not most of the money shaping U.S. politics, and particularly the stance of Congress, is heavily dependent on the Israeli 'cause' existing, and continuing to exist, and it is not therefore the case that Israel is wholly dependent on the U.S. power structures and its 'good will' (as Biden pre-supposes).

The 'causeof Israel' both gives domestic U.S. structures their political meaning, their agenda and their legitimacy. A 'No Israel' outcome would pull the carpet from under them, and would leave U.S. Jews experiencing existential insecurity. Netanyahu knows this - and also appreciates that the existence of Israel, per se, offers Tel Aviv a certain degree of control over U.S. politics.

To judge from yesterday's State of the Union Address, the U.S. Administration is incapable of navigating the present impasse with Israel, and is instead doubling down rather on its time-worn and platitudinous notions. Using the State of Union Address as a bully-pulpit for old thinking is no strategy. Building a jetty in Gaza has a history, too. It solves nothing - except further consolidating Israeli control over Gaza's borders and any possible prospects for post-occupation Gaza - Cyprus in place of Rafah for Israeli security checks. (Gaza once had both a harbour and an international airport - all long reduced to rubble, of course, by previous rounds of Israeli bombing).

The inattention to reality is not an electorally 'incidental' and irksome issue that needs better PR management by the campaign team:
Israeli and U.S. officials have been warning for some time of a possible spike in tension to coincide with the start of Ramadan on 10 March. Israel's Channel 12 (in Hebrew) reports that the head of the Military Intelligence Division, 'Aman', has warned the Israeli government in a confidential document of the possibility of a religious war breaking out during the month of Ramadan, starting with an escalation in the Palestinian territories; extending to several fronts, and then turning into a regional war.
This warning - Channel 12 claims - was the main reason behind Netanyahu's decision not to impose harsher than usual restrictions on Palestinians entering Al-Aqsa for Ramadan prayers.

Yes, things might get worse, much worse, for Israel.