Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday that Gaza should be unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority once the war is over, offering a strong signal about what the United States sees as its preferred endgame in the fight between Israel and Hamas.
The message, delivered during a meeting of foreign ministers in Tokyo, came as President Biden feels growing pressure to use his leverage to push for sustainable, long-term goals in the region and minimize civilian casualties. But increasingly, the United States and Israel are showing signs that their interests are diverging.
The remarks by Mr. Blinken on Wednesday reflect a deep anxiety on the part of Mr. Biden and his aides inside the White House as the conflict enters its second month. What started in the days after Oct. 7 as an unambiguous rush to the defense of an ally has become a much more complicated diplomatic challenge for the president to help define an alternative to open-ended war in the Middle East.
Mr. Biden wields key leverage as a world leader strongly allied with Israel, and his administration has sought to rally Arab nations and others behind a vision that looks beyond the fighting and the deep emotions that have divided the region for years.
On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken said there must be “affirmative elements to get to a sustained peace.”
“These must include the Palestinian people’s voices and aspirations at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza,” he said. “It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
Mr. Blinken offered no details about how such an arrangement might be implemented; it would not be a solution in the near term as the violence continues. But restoring the Palestinian Authority — which administers parts of the West Bank — to power in Gaza would not be easy even if Israel managed to end Hamas’s rule. Its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is deeply unpopular. Many Palestinians view him as corrupt and say his attempts to win independence through peace talks have failed.
“We don’t have it all figured out right now,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday on CNN. “And I don’t know that it would be reasonable for us to think that we could, at this at this particular point, one month into the conflict. But we know that it has to be something different than what it was under Hamas.”
In the immediate hours and days after Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7 and killed more than 1,400 people, Mr. Biden fully embraced Israel’s right to respond, a position that White House officials still repeat frequently.
But as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens, Mr. Biden has tried to balance his support for Israel with calls for the protection of Palestinian noncombatants and for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting.
Another potential split emerged this week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel suggested that his country could hold a security role in Gaza “for an indefinite period” after the war is over. Mr. Kirby responded by saying that any re-occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces is “not the right thing to do.”
In his comments on Wednesday, Mr. Blinken made no reference to the presence of Israeli forces remaining inside Gaza, home to about 2 million Palestinians.
Mr. Biden has also come under pressure from some in the Democratic Party, which is deeply split on the conflict. On Wednesday, the majority of the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter asking Mr. Biden to ensure that Israel has a viable plan for defeating Hamas and will use U.S. military assistance in keeping with international law.
Veterans of the often contentious diplomacy between the leaders of Israel and the United States said the willingness of the president and the secretary of state to be critical of Israel in public is a response to that dissatisfaction with Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.