50 Years On, U.S. Presidents Still Seek Elusive Peace To A 6-Day War : Parallels With Arab armies massed on its frontiers, Israel unleashed a lightning strike on June 5, 1967. Donald Trump is now the 10th president seeking a lasting solution to that brief war.
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50 Years On, U.S. Presidents Still Seek Elusive Peace To A 6-Day War

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50 Years On, U.S. Presidents Still Seek Elusive Peace To A 6-Day War

50 Years On, U.S. Presidents Still Seek Elusive Peace To A 6-Day War

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a war that lasted just six days but forever changed the Middle East. With Arab armies massed on its frontiers, Israel unleashed a lightning strike on June 5, 1967. It captured vast tracts of territory from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Every U.S. president since has sought peace. Donald Trump speaking before his recent Mideast trip thought he could get a deal.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Something that I think is frankly not as difficult as people have thought over the years.

CORNISH: NPR's Greg Myre looks at why it's been so elusive.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: It didn't take long for President Lyndon Johnson to jump into the Mideast fray. Just 11 days after the Six-Day War, Johnson laid out a plan.

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LYNDON B JOHNSON: Our country is committed, and we here reiterate that commitment today to a peace that is based on five principles.

MYRE: That proposal didn't go anywhere, but his successors kept trying. Richard Nixon became the first sitting president to visit Israel, touching down in June 1974.

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RICHARD NIXON: The road ahead is difficult.

MYRE: He was talking Mideast peace, but it also applied to his presidency. Just two months later, he resigned due to Watergate. The first big breakthrough came when President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt at Camp David in 1978.

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JIMMY CARTER: When we first arrived at Camp David, the first thing upon which we agreed was to ask the people of the world to pray that our negotiations would be successful. Those prayers have been answered.

MYRE: Peace between Israel and Egypt still holds. Israel and Jordan have also come to terms, but the Israeli-Palestinian feud grinds on. Some presidents, like Ronald Reagan speaking here in 1982, openly opposed a Palestinian state.

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RONALD REAGAN: So the United States will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

MYRE: Another decade would pass, and many lives would be lost before there was a major advance. In 1993, President Clinton hosted Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the White House lawn for the signing of an interim peace agreement. But the rocky negotiations spanned Clinton's entire presidency. With just days left in Clinton's term, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, notorious for his evasive answers, ultimately rejected Clinton's final proposal.

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BILL CLINTON: In one of our last conversations, Arafat thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. Mr. Chairman, I replied, I am not a great man. I'm a failure, and you have made me one.

MYRE: Clinton did set new parameters. The U.S. became the main broker. A future Palestinian state became a given. And Arafat became a scapegoat. President George W. Bush encapsulated all of this in 2002, a time of ferocious Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

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GEORGE W BUSH: My vision is two states living side by side in peace and security.

MYRE: His vision did not include Arafat.

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BUSH: I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

MYRE: Arafat died two years later, but negotiations didn't get easier. The radical group Hamas took control of Gaza. Israel kept expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank. President Obama often criticized these settlements, saying peace is not in the cards unless...

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BARACK OBAMA: Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.

MYRE: Which brings us back to Trump. After his confident prediction before his Mideast trip, Trump struck a more cautious note when he was in Jerusalem.

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TRUMP: It's not easy. I've heard it's one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually, I hope.

MYRE: Trump is now the 10th president over 50 years seeking a solution to a Six-Day War. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

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