Oct 26, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's post-war plan: New talks on Israel-Palestine two-state solution

President Biden speaks in the Rose Garden on Wednesday

President Biden speaks at a news conference in the White House's Rose Garden on Wednesday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden is signaling for the first time what his plan would be for the day after the war in Gaza — a new generation of peace talks in the Middle East on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would co-exist with a Palestinian state.

Why it matters: Biden's call for a "concentrated effort" to begin talking about a two-state solution represents a pivot for the president.

  • So far he's focused largely on trying to avoid conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank — and securing a big peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • But after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, there's no going back to the "status quo" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as it stood on Oct. 6, Biden said Wednesday during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
  • "Hamas can't continue to terrorize Israeli citizens .... When this crisis is over there has to be a vision of what comes next, and in our view it has to be a two-state solution," Biden said.
  • "It means a concentrated effort to put us on a path towards peace."

During a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Biden noted the importance of a permanent pathway to peace for Israelis and Palestinians after this crisis, the White House said.

  • Biden emphasized to Netanyahu that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for a state of their own.

Reality check: A two-state solution has been an elusive goal for many Middle East diplomats for decades, and it's unclear whether the post-war political situations for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and neighboring Arab nations will allow any renewed peace process — particularly such an ambitious one.

  • The animosity in the region already seems to be its worst since the Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada, two decades ago.
  • The feeling of insecurity of the Israeli side and the rising number of casualties on the Palestinian side could undermine the parties' appetites for compromise.
  • More than 6,400 people have been killed in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry claims, though Biden disputed that figure Wednesday.

Another factor: Israel's current government is the most far right in the nation's history, and most of its officials oppose a two-state solution or any diplomatic engagement with the Palestinians.

  • Any new Israeli government formed after the war is likely to be pressured by Israeli citizens not to agree to any plan they believe could jeopardize the security of the Jewish state.

The big picture: Biden is the first U.S. president in three decades to begin his term without trying to push for some type of two-state solution. He said initially that the political conditions weren't right.

  • Instead, he mostly has tried to contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and tried to preserve the prospect of a two-state solution for the future.
  • During the past year, Biden has sought to ease tension in the Middle East by pushing for a mega deal with Saudi Arabia that would include a historic peace agreement between the kingdom and Israel.
  • U.S. officials said they'd been making progress in the weeks before the war — and had begun discussing with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian Authority about what a Palestinian component of such an agreement might look like.

In a meeting in New York several weeks before the war, Biden and Netanyahu agreed that the Palestinian component of the mega deal should preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

  • That meant Israel would commit to avoid making a two-state solution harder to achieve in the future — but not actually work toward achieving it.

Biden said Wednesday that although he doesn't have proof, his "instinct" tells him Hamas attacked Israel to bust up the Israel-Saudi deal, which would include other Arab nations.

  • "We need to work toward greater integration (in the region) for Israel — while insisting that the aspirations of the Palestinian people will be part of this future as well," Biden said.

State of play: On Tuesday Biden spoke by phone with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). It was their first call since the Hamas attack.

  • The White House said both leaders "affirmed the importance of working towards a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians as soon as the crisis subsides."
  • The Saudi royal court said MBS told Biden of the need to "restore the peace track to ensure that the Palestinian people obtain their legitimate rights and in order to achieve fair and comprehensive peace".

What to watch: Secretary of State Tony Blinken told a group of American-Jewish leaders on Monday that the State Department had begun working on a post-war strategy for Gaza and the West Bank, two people who attended the meeting told Axios.

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