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U.S. view on Israel: Could Blinken's visit temporarily cool down tensions?


Ambassador Dennis Ross has been tracking the latest Mideast violence. He's been a Middle East envoy for the administrations of President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has followed these matters for a long time. Ambassador, welcome back.

DENNIS ROSS: Nice to be with you.

INSKEEP: What are the dangers of this moment?

ROSS: Well, I think the biggest danger is this just spins out of control, and we move into what might be the Third Intifada. If you recall, the Second Intifada was extremely violent, went on for four years. Over a thousand Israelis were killed, and close to 35- or 3,600 Palestinians were killed. And in a sense, you just saw the territories and Israel itself become places where violence was the norm and normalcy was the exception.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about the response of Israel's government to this synagogue shooting on Friday. Authorities are preparing to smash the suspect's home, which is a thing that is done there sometimes. Netanyahu's government is talking of bills to make it easier for employers to fire Palestinians, easier to strip Palestinians of their citizenship. What do you think Netanyahu is driving at here?

ROSS: I think he's trying to demonstrate that he's doing something that's tough to satisfy, especially those within the right wing, the far-right wing of his government, those that in many ways wanted much more difficult, much harsher policies. They want to build new settlements. They want to build in an area called E1. This is an area that, strategically, could separate the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part of the West Bank. It's been an issue going back to the time when I was our envoy that we would raise with the Israelis and say this is an area that precludes any possible two-state outcome later on.

So I think he's trying to forestall the kinds of actions that he's being pressed to take and, at the same time, show he's acting in a way that will deter further violence or reduce the incentives for violence from the Palestinians. The problem in a case like this is steps he takes to try to create deterrence sometimes end up creating pressures on the Palestinians even to show that they can carry out more revenge attacks. And the real danger here is revenge attacks on both sides.

INSKEEP: You know, in the United States, we would see a mass shooting like this terrible shooting at the synagogue - we would normally see it as the act of an individual. There may be a political context. There's likely a political aspect to it in terms of laws and so forth. But we see it broadly as an individual. How is it different in Israel given the wider conflict there?

ROSS: Well, I think you got an indication of that, even by what Daniel Estrin was reporting, how there were celebrations throughout the West Bank in response to the killing of the seven coming out of the synagogue and how the 13-year-old who - the next morning - 13-year-old Palestinian, the next morning, who shot two Israelis, was called a hero by his friend. The creation of a sense of martyrdom suggests that this is all about the struggle and resistance. And unfortunately, that's the culture right now. And the more the Israelis see it, the more they feel there's no alternative except to put more pressure on the Palestinians.

So in a sense, you have the secretary of state coming out there, not to make peace but to try to calm the situation down. I think the one thing he might try to do - we have a U.S. security coordinator, a three-star general, and he might seek to have him bring the security forces of both sides together to see what each of them might do in parallel to try to bring this - not so much to end it because it's going to be very hard, but at least try to bring things under control.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, do you think these two governments are on the same page, at least at this moment, regarding Iran?

ROSS: I think they're getting very close to being on the same page, principally because what Iran is doing to its own public and because Iran is providing weapons to the Russians. That puts the U.S. closer to the Israelis, I think, than they've been.

INSKEEP: Meaning that - favoring confrontation with Iran and putting on a back burner any resumption of a nuclear deal.

ROSS: I don't think they have much of a choice because the Iranians aren't showing much interest in such a deal.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

ROSS: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. He's at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.