Jan 31, 2024 - World

Scoop: State Department reviewing options for possible recognition of Palestinian state

Secretary of State Tony Blinken

Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Jan. 29. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked the State Department to conduct a review and present policy options on possible U.S. and international recognition of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza, two U.S. officials briefed on the issue told Axios.

Why it matters: While U.S. officials say there has been no policy change, the fact the State Department is even considering such options signals a shift in thinking within the Biden administration on possible Palestinian statehood recognition, which is highly sensitive both internationally and domestically.

  • For decades, U.S. policy has been to oppose the recognition of Palestine as a state both bilaterally and in UN institutions and to stress Palestinian statehood should only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Yes but: Efforts to find a diplomatic way out of the war in Gaza has opened the door for rethinking a lot of old U.S. paradigms and policies, a senior U.S. official said.

  • The Biden administration is linking possible normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia to the creation of a pathway for the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of its post-war strategy. This initiative is based on the administration's efforts prior to Oct. 7 to negotiate a mega-deal with Saudi Arabia that included a peace agreement between the kingdom and Israel.
  • Saudi officials have publicly and privately made clear since Oct. 7 that any potential normalization agreement with Israel would be conditioned on the creation of an "irrevocable" pathway toward a Palestinian state.
  • Some inside the Biden administration are now thinking recognition of a Palestinian state should possibly be the first step in negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of the last, the senior U.S. official said.

There are several options for U.S. action on this issue, including:

  • Bilaterally recognizing the state of Palestine.
  • Not using its veto to block the UN Security Council from admitting Palestine as a full UN member state.
  • Encouraging other countries to recognize Palestine.

State of play: U.S. officials said the review of options regarding the recognition of a Palestinian state is one of several issues Blinken asked the State Department to look at.

  • Blinken also asked for a review of what a demilitarized Palestinian state would look like based on other models from around the world, the two U.S. officials said.
  • The idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state is something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed several times between 2009 and 2015, but hasn't referred to it in recent years.
  • The purpose of such a review is to look at options for how a two-state solution can be implemented in a way that assures security for Israel, a U.S. official said.

What they're saying: The U.S. official said the White House is aware of the two reviews.

  • The official stressed Blinken hasn't signed off on any new policy and the State Department is in the process of coming up with a big menu of options.
  • A White House National Security Council spokesperson said it "has been long-standing U.S. policy that any recognition of a Palestinian state must come through direct negotiations between the parties rather than through unilateral recognition at the UN. That policy has not changed."
  • The State Department declined to comment.

Flashback: The State Department under the Obama administration did look at the issue of recognition of a Palestinian state, including after the Palestinian Authority sought recognition as a full member state at the UN in 2011.

  • At the time, the State Department prepared a substantial paper on the issue but it wasn't discussed inside the administration as a serious option, according to an official briefed on the paper.
  • The UN General Assembly accepted Palestine as an observer state in 2012 but did not give it full membership.

Zoom out: British Foreign Minister David Cameron said on Monday the U.K. is considering recognition of Palestine as part of its plans for the day after the war in Gaza and as a way to give the Palestinians a political horizon.

  • "We — with allies — will look at the issue of recognizing a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations … that could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible," he said.

Reality check: Netanyahu, who has long opposed a two-state solution, has recently rejected calls for Palestinian sovereignty and Israel is vehemently against any recognition of a Palestinian state by individual countries or at the UN.

  • Netanyahu's government includes ultranationalists who oppose even small overtures to the Palestinians. U.S. officials have admitted it's extremely unlikely they'd agree to a path toward a future Palestinian state.

What to watch: Blinken is expected to meet with Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer later Wednesday and discuss the situation in Gaza, plans for the day after the war and the possibility of normalization with Saudi Arabia.

  • Dermer met Wednesday morning with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan for a similar discussion, a U.S. official said.
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