ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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US opposed to Israel establishing Gaza border buffer zone

State Department downplays report US weighing recognition of Palestinian state

Blinken said to request review of possible post-war steps, while spokesman notes that officials ‘look at any number of options. That’s part of the normal planning process’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, in Ramallah in the West Bank, January 10, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, in Ramallah in the West Bank, January 10, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

The US State Department is reportedly exploring the possibility of recognizing a Palestinian state following the end of the Gaza war, which would be a major shift in American policy, although its spokesman downplayed the significance of any such discussion on Wednesday.

According to the report in Axios, which cites two US officials, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the State Department to review the policy options available to the US on the issue and present them for discussion.

Asked about the report during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Matt Miller 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.”

But he 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.”

“There are any number of sequencing of events that you could carry out to accomplish that objective,” Miller added. “And we look at a wide range of options, and we discuss those with partners in the region, as well as other partners inside the United States Government, but there has been no policy change.

He made clear that recognizing a Palestinian state has long been among the options weighed by successive administrations, even though none of them has taken that step. “We look at any number of options. That’s part of the normal planning process. The vast majority of options never usually get implemented,” Miller said.

An Israeli army tank moves near the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel, January 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Miller also reiterated at the briefing US opposition to an Israeli-planned buffer zone inside Gaza along its border with Israel. The spokesman said Israel has told the US it is only demolishing homes that were used for terror activity, and that it has no plans to leave a permanent security force inside the Strip.

Israel has in recent weeks been demolishing buildings to create a kilometer- (0.62 mile-) wide buffer zone along the border in the wake of the October 7 assault, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists burst across the frontier, overrunning military bases and communities and killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians in their homes and at a music festival.

The report suggests that, aside from full recognition of a Palestinian state, the US could also take a step in not using its veto to block the UN Security Council from admitting Palestine as a full member state of the UN. Current US law would require the Biden administration to halt all funding to the UN if the body recognized Palestine as a permanent member state.

The report comes hours after British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that the UK is mulling possibly recognizing a Palestinian state.

Amid the discussions, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier Wednesday at the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The pair discussed the ongoing war in Gaza, efforts to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the Strip and negotiations to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza, Kirby said. Dermer is seen as Netanyahu’s confidant.

The meeting comes on the tail of sit-downs Sullivan has held over the past day with the families of several American hostages, along with the prime minister of Qatar, one of the main mediators between Israel and Hamas.

Officials told The Times of Israel earlier this week that the US is working to create a “contact group” with leaders from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey in order to establish a united policy on a post-war Gaza.

The US is asking regional stakeholders to play a role in the reconstruction and management of Gaza after the war, and hopes that the contact group will allow for ideas to be raised and advanced in a single forum, a US administration official said.

US officials have repeatedly called for the Palestinian Authority to be heavily involved in ruling Gaza following the war, although they have noted that the body would require significant reforms, including transferring powers from current President Mahmoud Abbas to a new prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel would refuse to allow the PA to control the Strip, citing its refusal to condemn Hamas’s October 7 onslaught and payments to the families of imprisoned terror convicts.

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