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Why An Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal Is No Longer A Top Priority For The U.S.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There was a time when the U.S. believed an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was within reach. It was a top national security priority, and it was critical to the larger American goal of reshaping the Middle East. With Israelis and Palestinians now in their second week of fighting, the political aims today have been scaled back dramatically. To talk about this change, we have called on NPR's Greg Myre, who was covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict two decades ago. Welcome, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start back in the year 2000. Can you just remind us of what the Israeli-Palestinian relationship was like then, when serious negotiations were taking place?

MYRE: Well, it was a very different atmosphere. Every morning, tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into Israel to do all kinds of jobs. On the weekend, Israelis would travel to the West Bank to shop or to have a relaxing meal. It was one of those rare moments when all the political conditions were really favorable. And here in the U.S., President Bill Clinton was fully immersed in the details of the negotiations. He sequestered the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Camp David in Maryland, and those leaders had broad support from their people to pursue a deal. Yet even in these circumstances, they fell short. They couldn't quite pull it off. The violence erupted for years. And those promising conditions have never returned. It's really fair to say we're further from a peaceful solution today than 20 years ago.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, talk about where we are today compared to back then. I mean, how does the Biden administration and the U.S. more broadly view the conflict and the potential for any kind of a long-term resolution?

MYRE: Well, Biden and his team look at all these failed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and they look at the broader U.S. campaigns in the region, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. And they've concluded this is not where they're going to focus their effort. They want a reduced U.S. role in the Middle East, and that means less emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I spoke about this with Hussein Ibish at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

HUSSEIN IBISH: Second-term Obama, Trump and now Biden have deprioritized the Palestinian issue to the point of managing it at best and managing it as kind of triage. All of that has left Palestinians very clearly confronting the fact they're on their own.

SHAPIRO: Well, Greg, what does that mean for the Palestinians and their approach to this conflict?

MYRE: Well, the group Hamas is now driving the Palestinian narrative. The Palestinian Authority is still led by Mahmoud Abbas. He represents his older generation that negotiated with Israel. But he's 85 and ailing and has really sort of faded into irrelevance. No one is looking to Abbas in the West Bank. Everyone is focused on Hamas, which has fired more than 3,000 rockets out of Gaza. Hussein Ibish says this pattern has been just terrible for the Palestinians.

IBISH: Violence is a disaster for Palestinians. Hamas can't resist using it as their claim to leadership, their claim to be defending Palestine and Jerusalem. And it's a disaster for the individuals who get hurt. And it's a disaster for the Palestinian cause.

SHAPIRO: And then what about Israel and the way that it has been dealing with this conflict over the last two decades?

MYRE: The country has grown steadily more conservative and hard line, especially when it comes to the Palestinians. And we've seen this consistent expansion of West Bank settlements. Netanyahu, the prime minister, has now been in power for 12 years, the longest of any Israeli prime minister. And as sort of a final note, when Biden called Netanyahu today, they talked about de-escalation and a path to cease fire. No one is talking about peace negotiations or a comprehensive solution right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAD PLUS'S "GOLD PRISMS INCORPORATED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.