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Israel-Palestine Isn’t America’s Top Mid-East Priority Anymore

Israel-Palestine Isn’t America’s Top Mid-East Priority Anymore

The United States may be heavily engaged in shepherding peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but according to Anne Patterson, who has been nominated as the State Department’s next top Middle East official, the issue just isn’t a top priority for the United States any more.

In an exchange Wednesday with Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Patterson chimed in to agree with the former Obama administration official that Israel-Palestine has moved away from its central place in U.S. policy toward the region. "It’s certainly not the most urgent problem that we face now in the Middle East, but it’s one that could have enormous long term consequences," Patterson said.

Citing the potential security benefits for countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon if Israel and Palestine were to make peace, Patterson argued that more important challenges have emerged in the region, eclipsing that conflict as the focus of American Middle East policy. The conflict, Patterson said, has become a "distraction" at various international bodies, where the United States spends an inordinate amount of time fighting back resolutions seen as anti-Israeli. That work has tarred America’s image abroad, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be worth solving for that reason alone, Patterson said at the Transformational Trends conference, an event co-hosted by Foreign Policy and Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. State Department.

Patterson said that she broadly agreed with Nasr’s assessment of priorities in the region when he sketched a picture of the Middle East in which developments since the beginning of the Arab Spring have reshaped regional dynamics. "It’s good if we make any kind of progress [on Israel-Palestine], but right now, as I said, the future of that region is being written in Syria, to some extent in this discussion of Iran, and when you have a country the size of Egypt it’s future somewhat open to question that really is much more important," Nasr said. 

That assessment by Nasr, a former Obama administration Middle East hand, and Patterson comes somewhat in contrast to the stated priorities of the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has engaged in intense personal diplomacy to attempt to broker a peace deal. At the same time, Kerry has also launched a diplomatic offensive to achieve rapprochement with Iran and a solution to the stand off over that country’s disputed nuclear program.

An interim nuclear deal reached with Iran last month raised the tantalizing possibility of a diplomatic realignment in the region, of which an Israeli-Palestine peace deal would be one component.