Biden said set to make push for demilitarized Palestinian state as part of new doctrine

New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who’s close to the US administration, says emerging doctrine would include Saudi-Israeli normalization, 2-state solution, and campaign against Iran

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and US President Joe Biden shake hands in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and US President Joe Biden shake hands in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden’s administration is homing in on a new doctrine involving an unprecedented push to immediately advance the creation of a demilitarized but viable Palestinian state, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman reported on Thursday.

The plan, Friedman wrote, “would involve some form of US recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would come into being only once Palestinians had developed a set of defined, credible institutions and security capabilities to ensure that this state was viable and that it could never threaten Israel.”

White House officials “have been consulting experts inside and outside the US government about different forms this recognition of Palestinian statehood might take,” revealed Friedman.

What he termed the new “Biden Doctrine” would include boosting US ties with Saudi Arabia alongside a normalization of ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem, and maintaining a tough military stance against Iran and its proxies.

Before the Hamas assault on October 7, Riyadh was bargaining hard for security guarantees from Washington, as well as assistance with a civilian nuclear program that would have uranium enrichment capacity, as part of a normalization deal.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in January that he was prepared to normalize relations with Israel as part of rebuilding the Gaza Strip after the war, two US officials relayed to The Times of Israel, noting that he indeed is conditioning that deal on Israeli steps toward Palestinian sovereignty.

Hamas’s mass onslaught in Israel is “forcing a fundamental rethinking about the Middle East within the Biden administration,” Friedman wrote.

New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman. (Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90)

“If the administration can pull this together — a huge if — a Biden Doctrine could become the biggest strategic realignment in the region since the 1979 Camp David treaty,” he contended.

Friedman, who is close to Biden and has disseminated messages to Israel through his column recently, argued that the emerging doctrine would include a stepped-up US campaign against Iran, including a firm military response to the death of three American soldiers this week.

He also maintained that Israel is losing the war in Gaza because of the damage it has suffered on the global stage and the fact that it doesn’t have a realistic plan for who rules the Strip after the military campaign.

Friedman’s column comes a day after a report in Axios, which cites two officials, saying that Blinken had asked the State Department to review the policy options available to the US on the issue of a Palestinian state and present them for discussion.

Asked about the report during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Matt Miller downplayed the immediate significance, but confirmed that the administration is “actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state – with real security guarantees for Israel, because we do believe that is the best way to bring about lasting peace and security for Israel, for Palestinians, and for the region.”

Miller also stressed that this “has been the longstanding position of the United States” and did not represent a shift in policy.

“There has been no policy shift in the administration. We have made quite clear publicly that we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. That has been the policy of the United States for some time. It has been the policy of this administration.”

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has drawn global condemnation — and defied the United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid — by ostensibly rejecting calls for a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s office said in January that Israel “must retain security control over Gaza,” even after “Hamas is destroyed,” days after the prime minister had rejected Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and proclaimed Israel’s need to have “security control over all the territory west of the Jordan [River].”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting a military base near Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

Netanyahu appears to have been careful, though, not to categorically reject all forms of Palestinian statehood.

His comments came after an NBC report that the Biden administration was looking past the premier to advance a two-state solution — and hours after Blinken said Israel cannot achieve “genuine security” without a pathway to a Palestinian state.

The two leaders spoke by phone that same week, and afterward Biden expressed hope that a two-state solution could be achieved even with Netanyahu in office if the Palestinian state is demilitarized. A CNN report the next day indicated that Netanyahu told Biden that he was not ruling out a Palestinian state entirely.

Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud attends a session during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, January 16, 2024. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the US, Egypt and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to accept a comprehensive plan that would end the war, see the release of hostages held in Gaza, and ultimately lead to full normalization for Israel with its neighbors and talks for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

War erupted after Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israeli communities, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 others. Israel then launched a massive military operation aimed at vanquishing Hamas and freeing the hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

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