Washington — Next week’s annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington may be as notable for what — and who — is missing as what’s planned.
For the first time in at least seven years, neither the U.S. president nor the Israeli prime minister will attend. In addition, no mention of the Palestinians, negative or positive, appears on the conference’s legislative agenda.
Instead, the agenda will focus on the Congress enacting legislation that would designate Israel a “major strategic ally” of the United States — a relationship not enjoyed by any other nation — and on facilitating a U.S. green light should Israel decide to strike Iran.
Should the measures being considered by the Senate and the House of Representatives pass, it would constitute the most explicit congressional sanction for military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.
The conference runs Sunday to Tuesday, ending with the annual AIPAC lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill.
An official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity said the thinking behind this year’s theme is the twin urgencies of what appears to be an accelerated Iranian nuclear program and turbulence in Syria and Egypt, both Israel’s neighbors. The official also said AIPAC remains as committed as ever to advancing the two-state solution.
Both emphases dovetail with recent signals from the Israeli government that talks with the Palestinians are not going anywhere soon, and that Iran is the largest looming threat in the region.
The absence of both President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be due to external circumstances more than anything else.
Obama will be visiting Israel just two weeks after the conference — his first visit to the Jewish state as president — obviating the need for the president to deliver another Israel policy speech at AIPAC. In his stead, the administration is sending Vice President Joe Biden, who will address the conference on Monday morning. Obama has been at four of the last six AIPAC conferences.
For his part, Netanyahu is still trying to cobble together a coalition government following Israel’s Jan. 22 elections, in which the prime minister’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction was weakened. Netanyahu will deliver a video message to AIPAC; Ehud Barak, Israel’s outgoing defense minister, will address the conference in person.
Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses of Congress also will address AIPAC.