US has weighed a new envoy role for Middle East crisis

Two other current U.S. officials and two former U.S. officials confirmed that discussions about an expanded envoy role have taken place within the administration, though each person offered different predictions for what a future such role could entail. All were granted anonymity to describe sensitive deliberations.

“They should do it if only because they can get this off of Biden’s plate,” one of the former officials said of creating a newer, more powerful post, noting how the president and his top aides have been very hands-on in dealing with the conflict amid growing Democratic criticism of Israeli actions. “This is not a particularly big political winner for Joe Biden.”

The considerations come as Israel is shifting to a less-intense phase of its war, albeit more slowly than the U.S. would like to see. Israel’s bombing campaign and ground operations have led to immense suffering for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.

The post that the administration created in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel is “special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues.”

It is held by David Satterfield, a veteran diplomat and regional specialist who returned to government for the role. He has focused on finding ways to provide Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with more food, water and medical aid as the territory faces Israeli bombardment. But Satterfield was not expected to stay in the role on a long-term basis.

If and when he leaves, the first U.S. official said, the administration could revamp the role or create a brand new one.

The second former official predicted a future such position would still have a large, primary humanitarian focus, but said it would need to include some responsibility for creating a pathway to long-term Israeli-Palestinian peace.

It’s unlikely, however, that a future such role would be entirely focused on a peace process given there’s little appetite in Israel to consider such an idea anytime soon.

And finding a person to tackle any such position will be challenging enough even if it is not given a grand past label such as “
special envoy for Middle East peace

The details of the position — including its title and where it falls on the U.S. diplomatic chain of command — also could impact whether the position must be confirmed by the Senate.

U.S. lawmakers in 2021 expanded the Senate’s confirmation powers because they were unhappy with the proliferation of special envoys, representatives, coordinators and similar roles whom they were unable to vet. That requirement went into effect last year.

Israeli officials have said the war will likely last at least several more months, though there are signs it may shift to less intense operations.

The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people in Israel; some 20,000 Palestinians have died in Israel’s military response, according to health officials in Gaza, where Hamas was long in charge and is believed to still have a substantial number of fighters.

A version of this story previously appeared in POLITICO’s National Security Daily newsletter. Like this content? Consider signing up!

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