Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a vital American interest

In the past, when American presidents and secretaries of state lent their time and prestige to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was because they were concerned about American relations with Israel’s neighbors. Earlier, it was also because of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry in the Middle East. Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy was motivated by preventing another Saudi-led oil boycott (which was originally provoked by American aid to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War). Kissinger also wanted to keep Egypt in the American Cold War camp. George H.W. Bush initiated the Madrid conference on the conflict in 1991 as part of a pledge to Arab countries whose support he solicited in the first Persian Gulf War.

Similarly, George W. Bush participated in the Quartet and endorsed a two-state solution as part of the effort to solidify Tony Blair’s support and Saudi acquiescence in invading Iraq. And Bush and Obama during his first term were concerned that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was recruiting followers to Al Qaeda and its allied groups in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, Obama was under pressure to intervene in November 2012 from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was sympathetic to Hamas as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. There were strong regional and even global reasons for intervening in each of these cases. But these factors are not so much in play anymore.

The pressure from surrounding Arab states to resolve the conflict has eased, particularly in the wake of the failure of the Arab Spring. Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq are preoccupied with their own internal problems. Egypt’s el-Sisi is more sympathetic to Netanyahu than to Hamas’s Khalid Mishal. The Saudis are still committed to their own initiative for resolving the conflict, but like el-Sisi, have no affection for Hamas. And the threat of terrorism in the region—typified by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—is no longer so clearly tied to the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So while the surrounding Arab states are always under public pressure to end Israeli attacks against Palestinians, Arab leaders have not displayed the same urgency.