Updated Jan 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Sullivan: U.S. post-war strategy links Saudi-Israel peace deal with two-state solution

Jake Sullivan addresses the assembly at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos,

Jake Sullivan addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 16. Photo: Fabrice Coforini/AFP via Getty Images

DAVOS, Switzerland — White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday that the Biden administration's strategy for post-war Gaza is to link normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia to the creation of a pathway for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Why it matters: Sullivan's comments echoed Secretary of State Tony Blinken's private message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv last week. The Biden administration is hoping to use a potential historic peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia as leverage for getting Israel on board with its plan for what happens in Gaza after the war.

  • Under the U.S. strategy, Netanyahu would ultimately have to decide what kind of political hit to take domestically in order to get a historic normalization deal.

What they're saying: "The strategy post-October 7 is that we want to see normalization [between Israel and Saudi Arabia] tied to a political horizon for the Palestinians," Sullivan said.

  • Sullivan laid out four principles for U.S. thinking on a political settlement for the day after the war: Gaza is never used for terror attacks on Israel; peace between Israel and the Arab countries in the region; a state for the Palestinians; and security assurances for Israel.
  • "I know it is hard to imagine right now, but this is the only path the provides peace and security to all. It can be done. The pieces are there to put together. Not years down the road but in the nearer term if all of us pull together and make bold decisions," he said.

Yes, but: Netanyahu's government includes ultranationalists who oppose even small overtures to the Palestinians. It's extremely unlikely they'd agree to a path toward a future Palestinian state.

  • Sullivan admitted that the Netanyahu government "has expressed quite strong views publicly about the Palestinian question," but he stressed that Israeli officials will decide what is the best way to ensure Israel's security.
  • "It is President Biden's firm conviction that the way to do that is two states with Israel security guaranteed," Sullivan said.

The big picture: Sullivan's remarks in Davos came as the Biden administration appeared to be struggling to make progress in two wars in which it's highly invested.

  • In Gaza, Biden is becoming more and more frustrated with the Israeli government's policy — and Netanyahu.
  • In Ukraine, the administration still hasn't been able to get a deal with Congress to fund additional military aid, which could leave an opening for Russia.
  • U.S. allies in the West and the Middle East are increasingly raising questions about U.S. handling of both crises.
  • In addition to Gaza and Ukraine, Sullivan also addressed the unrest in other parts of the Middle East and the U.S. relationship with China.

Zoom out: While in Davos, Sullivan is meeting with several officials and leaders also in Switzerland.

  • On Tuesday, he met with the Qatari prime minister. The pair "discussed the urgent effort to release all remaining hostages held by Hamas, including American citizens, as well as ongoing initiatives to facilitate increased and sustained life-saving access to humanitarian assistance into Gaza," according to the State Department readout.
  • Separately, Qatar confirmed it mediated a deal between Israel and Hamas to allow the delivery of medicine to hostages held by the militant group in Gaza, as well as to civilians in Gaza.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper