Netanyahu pushes back on report he told Biden he isn’t ruling out Palestinian state

In rare Shabbat statement, PM’s office says Israel must keep full security control of Gaza, after US president intimates Israeli leader may accept some ‘type’ of 2-state solution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to speak at a press conference at the Kiriya military HQ in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to speak at a press conference at the Kiriya military HQ in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back Saturday against a report that he’d told US President Joe Biden he has not ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state.

The rare statement put out by Netanyahu’s office on Shabbat came after CNN, citing a person familiar with the conversation, reported that Netanyahu told Biden that the public comments he had made a day earlier — in which the prime minister appeared to reject the idea of creating a Palestinian state — were not meant to rule out that outcome entirely.

“In his conversation last night with President Biden, Prime Minister Netanyahu repeated his consistent position for years, which he also expressed at a press conference the day before: after the elimination of Hamas, Israel must remain in full security control of the Gaza Strip to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel — and this conflicts with demands for Palestinian sovereignty,” the PMO statement said on Saturday afternoon.

The carefully worded statement issued by the PMO did not definitively rule out the possibility of a Palestinian state with less than full sovereignty — a possible option that Biden mentioned in comments after the leaders’ Friday call when he spoke of “types” of two-state solution.

The source had told CNN that the two leaders had a “serious” and “detailed” conversation.

The report noted that Biden has found recent conversations among his administration’s officials on a potential de-militarized future Palestinian state to be “intriguing.”

The CNN report followed similar comments from Biden himself, who said late Friday that the creation of an independent state for Palestinians is not impossible while Netanyahu is still in office, and that the two leaders discussed the issue during their phone call earlier Friday.

US President Joe Biden addresses a mayoral conference at the White House in Washington on January 19, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with US mayors, Biden was asked directly whether a two-state solution was impossible with Netanyahu still in office.

“No it’s not,” the president replied.

He was then asked: “Are you going to reconsider conditions on Israel aid given what Bibi [Netanyahu] said on a two-state solution?” (The Israeli prime minister reiterated and detailed his opposition to Palestinian sovereignty during a press conference on Thursday.)

Said Biden: “I think we’ll be able to work something out.”

Asked how this could be done, the president intimated that there might be “types” of two-state solutions that Netanyahu may not be opposed to: “There are a number of types of two-state solutions. There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that are still — don’t have their own militaries. Number of states that have limitations… And so I think there’s ways in which this could work.”

The reporter then told Biden that “Bibi just said he’s opposed to any two-state solution.”

“No, he didn’t say that,” Biden asserted.

Asked what Netanyahu was open to, Biden said: “I’ll let you know.”

Those comments from Biden came shortly after he and Netanyahu spoke for the first time in 27 days.

There has been growing daylight between Jerusalem and Washington over the war in Gaza, which Israel launched in response to the Hamas-led onslaught on October 7, when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages.

Netanyahu has rejected Biden’s vision for a post-war Gaza, which would be reunited politically with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority’s rule — after reforms — as part of a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at an eventual two-state solution and an expanded Abraham Accords.

While Netanyahu has spoken out against establishing a Palestinian state, he has offered few details on his alternative vision for Gaza while blocking the cabinet from holding discussions on the matter, knowing that it risks collapsing his hardline coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“Whoever is talking about the ‘day after Netanyahu,’” Netanyahu said during his press conference on Thursday, “is essentially talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state with the Palestinian Authority.”

Most Israeli citizens are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, he claimed, and he would always resist it.

“All territory we evacuate, we get terror — terrible terror against us,” he said, citing Gaza, southern Lebanon and parts of the West Bank. Therefore, “in any future arrangement, or in the absence of an arrangement,” he said, Israel must maintain “security control” of all territory west of the Jordan River — meaning, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. “That is a vital condition.”

He acknowledged that this “contradicts the idea of sovereignty [for the Palestinians]. What can you do? I tell this truth to our American friends.”

Nonetheless, Netanyahu asserted that his stance would not prevent Israel from expanding the circle of peace to new Arab countries, “along with our American friends.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank on January 10, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)

Netanyahu reportedly rejected a US proposal, presented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he visited earlier this month, that would have seen Saudi Arabia help with the reconstruction of Gaza along with several other Arab countries in addition to agreeing to normalize ties with Israel, on the condition that Jerusalem agree to take steps to create a pathway to an eventual Palestinian state.

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