Inside story

Israel urging US not to talk publicly about two-state solution — officials

Request not just being made by PM, but Herzog, Gantz and Lapid as well, who argue that framework has no support post Oct. 7; US official says Washington in no position to heed call

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, confers with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, during their meeting with US President Joe Biden, left, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, confers with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, during their meeting with US President Joe Biden, left, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — Israeli leaders have been privately urging the Biden administration to refrain from publicly talking about the two-state solution in the fallout of Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, four Israeli and US officials told The Times of Israel this week.

The message is not just being voiced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose resonance is more limited since Washington is convinced he has been engaged in a “politically motivated campaign” on the matter, a US official said. Other war cabinet members including Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog and even Opposition chairman Yair Lapid have also conveyed their discomfort with the Biden administration’s revived rhetoric regarding the need for a two-state solution since the war’s outbreak, according to two Israeli officials.

“A two-state solution after what happened on October 7 is a reward to Hamas,” said one of the Israeli officials, referencing the terror group’s shock attack, in which 1,2000 were massacred and some 240 were taken hostage in Gaza.

“Netanyahu is the one saying it loudly and bluntly, but there truly isn’t any appetite right now in Israel across the political spectrum for the idea of two states,” the official added.

Even before the war, Gantz spoke about a “two-entity solution,” carefully avoiding use of the term “state” to characterize the Palestinian entity he’ll agree to.

“It is clear to both us and our partners that the old concepts, and the reality of the past decades, need to change and be forward-looking,” he said in a speech Thursday night.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv on December 14, 2023. (Benny Gantz/X)

“What I want to urge is against just saying ‘two-state solution’. Why? Because there is an emotional chapter here that must be dealt with. My nation is bereaving. My nation is in trauma,” Herzog said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Lapid, who expressed support for a two-state solution while serving as prime minister last year, has also evaded the phrase since October 7.

In a lengthy post published earlier this month on his post-war diplomatic vision, the opposition leader left a role for the PA to play in Gaza but later specified that it could not include PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

While Lapid and Gantz are similarly unenthusiastic about the idea of a two-state solution, they’ve voiced their concerns behind closed doors and have called out Netanyahu for “manufacturing disputes” with the Biden administration on the matter.

For the past month and a half, Netanyahu has gradually intensified his rhetoric against the PA, telling lawmakers last week that the only difference between it and Hamas is that the latter wants to destroy Israel immediately while the former merely wants to do so in stages.

The campaign against Ramallah has infuriated the Biden administration, which has provided Israel with massive military and diplomatic backing since the war while arguing that the effort to remove Hamas should pave the way for an eventual return of the PA to Gaza followed by a renewed effort to negotiate a two-state solution.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Opposition chairman Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv on November 30, 2023. (Elad Gutman)

Netanyahu is “a good friend, but I think he has to change,” Biden said at a campaign fundraiser on Tuesday. “You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future.”

“We have to work toward bringing Israel together in a way that provides for the beginning of… a two-state solution,” he added.

The remarks set off alarm bells in Jerusalem, which sought to raise its concern with US National Security Jake Sullivan during meetings on Thursday, an Israeli official said.

The top Biden administration aide notably avoided mentioning the two-state solution in both a lengthy interview he gave to Channel 12 in Tel Aviv and in the readout from his office on his meetings with Israeli leaders on Thursday.

But in a Friday press conference, he capped off an opening statement by declaring, “I have and will continue to state President Biden’s commitment to preserving space for peace, for a two-state solution where Israel’s security is guaranteed.”

Back in Washington, two top administration spokesmen also continued to employ talking points in favor of the paradigm.

President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Evan Vucci)

“We still adhere to the promise and the vision of a two-state solution,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.

In the State Department, Spokesman Matt Miller echoed the message, saying, “The October 7th attacks should have been a wake-up call to everyone… that there needs to be a solution moving forward that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people while providing security to the Israeli people. We think the best way to achieve that is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state… We make that clear privately, we make that clear publicly, and it’s something we’ll continue to engage with the Israeli government about.”

A US official confirmed to The Times of Israel that there has indeed been a multi-front effort to convince the Biden administration to tone down the public rhetoric regarding the need for a two-state solution, but they said that Washington has no intention to budge.

“We have our own domestic politics and our global diplomatic standing to take into account,” the official says. “We’re doing a lot for Israel, and they need to understand this is something we need to do.”

Gantz’s and Lapid’s offices declined to comment on this story, while Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a query on the matter.

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