Biden Admin Reverses State Department Declaration of Strategic Talks with 'Palestine'

Controversy-prone spokeswoman causing diplomatic headaches

President Joe Biden / Getty Images
October 5, 2021

The State Department is walking back comments from its controversy-prone spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, who stated last week that the Biden administration is engaged in strategic discussions related to "Palestine."

Porter's reference to "Palestine" stunned State Department officials because it would represent a monumental shift in decades of U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sources told the Washington Free Beacon. The State Department's longstanding policy, upheld across multiple administrations, is that "Palestine" refers to the conditions on the ground prior to Israel's creation in 1948, and that any new nation called "Palestine" will have to be forged in direct negotiations between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

"There is no change to our policy," a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon. "We believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Biden-Harris administration also believes both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity. Our interest remains in supporting peace and stability which requires thoughtful and constructive engagement with both Israeli and Palestinian leadership."

Porter's public missteps are causing headaches for career officials, who are finding it difficult to prepare her for briefings, according to a career diplomat who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly.

"She often goes off script from established policy and agreed upon talking points, causing gaffes that confuse allies and journalists alike," the source told the Free Beacon. "Career State Department staff have grown increasingly frustrated, as we are often the ones having to clean up after her verbal messes. It's gotten to the point where the building doesn't know what to do with her or how to help her."

The State Department's about-face comes after Porter told reporters at a press briefing last week that Biden administration officials have been engaged in discussions with their Palestinian counterparts on issues "surrounding Palestine"—a comment that raised eyebrows among diplomats inside the State Department because the United States has never recognized a nation called "Palestine." Porter's remarks were off-script and not cleared with career officials who handle the portfolio at the State Department, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Porter's statement is the latest in a series of verbal snafus. In May, Porter singled out Israel for criticism, blaming the Jewish state for inflaming tensions with the Palestinians. The State Department walked back those comments several days later, telling the Free Beacon that the United States was pushing both Israelis and Palestinians to restore calm in the region.

Reporters last week pressed Porter about U.S. engagement with Palestinian officials during the United Nations General Assembly, the annual meeting of nations in New York City. Porter said that several U.S. officials held talks with the Palestinians that "were very much strategic," language that indicated a new elevation in U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. "Any time that we engage on issues of, surrounding Palestine they are strategic," she said, referring to a country that the United States does not recognize.

A State Department spokesman described the meetings differently: "During UNGA's high-level week, there was an informal engagement between senior U.S., Palestinian, and other foreign officials, and we will not get into the details of those private diplomatic discussions," the spokesman told the Free Beacon.

Porter's latest comment also made waves among former State Department officials. Len Khodorkovsky, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state during the Trump administration, said Porter's reference to "Palestine" breaks with decades of established U.S. policy.

"The State Department's deputy spokesperson should know that language matters, especially in diplomacy," Khodorkovsky said. "There is a reason the State Department does not call Judea and Samaria 'Palestine.' Those territories are disputed and their final status should be resolved by the parties involved, not by the deputy spokeswoman."

Khodorkovsky also said there is "no formal strategic dialogue between the United States and the Palestinian Authority," as Porter claimed.

Jeff Ballabon, a veteran political operative who works on Israel issues, expressed shock at Porter's reference to "Palestine."

"Even an official of the United States government using the phrase 'Palestine' is an extraordinary leap in the wrong direction," said Ballabon, who serves as senior counsel for international and government affairs at the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal advocacy group. "The fact is, there is no Palestine recognized by the United States. There never has been a Palestine recognized by any administration of the United States."

Porter has been the subject of controversy for a series of social media postings she sent before she was hired by the Biden administration that were highly critical of cops.

"The largest threat to U.S. national security are U.S. cops. Not ISIS, not Russian hackers, not anyone or anything else," Porter wrote in one resurfaced Facebook post first reported by the Free Beacon in January.

While Porter publicly apologized for the missives and initially claimed her anti-cop rhetoric was an isolated incident, the Free Beacon revealed other postings that contained similar language.

In 2020, Porter wrote on Twitter, "I'm so tired of terrorist cops."

"Comments I made five years ago on my personal Facebook account as a private citizen were in response to the uncomfortable—and deeply painful—truth of race-based violence in America that has continued ever since," Porter said in a statement issued to Fox News at the time. "The pain I expressed was real. Nevertheless, I should've chosen words that were less passionate and spur of the moment, as well as more constructive."