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Secretary of State Blinken is in the Middle East to address latest round of violence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Israeli prime minister yesterday and met today with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. They met in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The West Bank, of course, is part of the story here. It is where the Israeli military has been carrying out near-daily raids that Israel says targets militants but that have often killed civilians. The West Bank is also where some Palestinians cheered after a deadly attack on Israelis outside a synagogue on Friday. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been in Ramallah. He joins us now. Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What has the secretary of state been saying as he travels through the region?

ESTRIN: Well, his message is not let's restart peace talks. This is much more a message of triage. Blinken is calling for urgent steps to de-escalate tensions. There was a deadly Israeli military raid in the West Bank last week, and the Palestinians called off their usual cooperation with Israeli security officials. Blinken wants Israelis and Palestinians to work together. Then there was a deadly Palestinian attack in Jerusalem with Israelis killed. And in response, Israel vowed to strengthen West Bank settlements, and it also began demolishing Palestinian homes. And Blinken opposes both of those moves. He says he opposes anything that makes it hard to eventually create a Palestinian state and eventually end the conflict.

INSKEEP: So he says he's concerned about some of the Israeli actions. And then today, he goes through a checkpoint, I guess, over to Ramallah, the Palestinian government center, and talks with Abbas. What did they discuss?

ESTRIN: Right. Well, Palestinian Authority President Abbas said Israel is not ending its violations against Palestinians. And he said Palestinians are not willing to endure the Israeli occupation of the West Bank forever. He said the Palestinians are ready to work with the U.S. to reenter peace talks with Israel, which have been on hold for nearly a decade. Of course, the U.S. is saying the sides are not ready for that. Now, Blinken had some interesting things to say, Steve. He offered condolences for innocent Palestinian civilians who have been killed in Israeli raids in the past year. And he also called on both sides to condemn violence no matter the identity of the victims. He said there's a shrinking horizon of hope for Palestinians, and that needs to change.

INSKEEP: So offering at least verbal support for the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli side. But when you were walking around Ramallah talking with ordinary Palestinians, what did they say they wanted from the United States?

ESTRIN: I met this one Palestinian woman, Steve, at an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank. She was on her way to work in Jerusalem. Her name is Majd Amro (ph). I said, what do you expect from America? Here's what she said.

MAJD AMRO: Are you kidding? I don't expect anything from America.

ESTRIN: Why not?

AMRO: Why not? Because they don't support us at all. They just support the Israeli side.

ESTRIN: You know, after the latest violence we just talked about, Steve, she says she thinks nothing is going to get better until Israel simply treats Palestinians better. She was on her way through the turnstile of the checkpoint. And here's what she said.

AMRO: Here at the checkpoints every day, it's horrible. Everything is going to be worse. Maybe they don't stop all these things just to treat us as humans.

INSKEEP: Treat us as humans, she says, one of many perspectives, of course, in this decades-old conflict. Daniel, let me ask you about another aspect. There was this attack on people, seven people killed outside a synagogue last week. What are you learning about the gunman?

ESTRIN: Our team has actually spoken to the family of the gunman, and the family says they don't know why he opened fire. His uncle told us if he would have known, he would have stopped him from doing so. You know, Palestinians are divided about that attack. Some have celebrated it; others we've spoken to say it hurts Palestinians. But it raises a lot of questions, Steve, about how Israel is responding to this attack. Israel has sealed off the attacker's family's home and wants to demolish the home. The family says it wasn't responsible. This raises questions about whether Israel is actually carrying out a policy of collective punishment, whether that actually can deter violence or fuel more of it.

INSKEEP: Isn't the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considering several measures that would seem to be broadly aimed at Palestinians?

ESTRIN: Yes, proposals including firing Palestinians if they post on social media their support for an attack, if they work at an Israeli restaurant, for instance. Israel is demolishing many Palestinian homes this week that were built without proper permits, Palestinians who had nothing to do with the recent attacks. So, you know, you see Israel's far-right government under a lot of pressure to get tougher on Palestinians.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.