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Despite the absences, AIPAC expects 13,000 activists, including 2,000 students, to attend the conference – a number commensurate with last year’s record-breaker. AIPAC officials say the number is more remarkable in 2013 because it’s not an election year.
The AIPAC official interviewed by JTA said that part of what motivates the push to name Israel a major strategic ally is an appeal to maintain defense assistance funding, averaging more than $3 billion annually, at a time when both parties are seeking ways to drastically cut spending.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote congressional appropriators last week to warn that across-the-board “sequestration” cuts due to kick in Friday – unless the White House and Congress achieve a compromise – will hit Israel funding, among other things.
“This is no time to cut aid to an ally,” the AIPAC official said. Conferring major strategic ally upon Israel “would mean that the United States and Israel would work together on a cooperative basis on missile defense, homeland security, energy independence, medical research and innovation and military technology,” the official said.
The push to name Israel a major strategic ally comports with a longstanding preference among some leading Republicans to tweak apart assistance for Israel from other foreign aid, which the conservative wing of the party advocates slashing.
The overriding consideration in such a designation, however, was Israel’s increasingly close security ties with the United States, in the Middle East and across the globe, where the two nations have collaborated on cyber-security issues, the AIPAC official said. The major strategic ally legislation will be introduced in the House and Senate in the coming days.
Separately, a nonbinding resolution that would call on the president to support Israel “if it is compelled to act against the Iranian nuclear threat” will be introduced in the Senate. The House will consider legislation that would authorize the president to sanction any entity that trades with Iran.
The conference schedule heavily emphasizes the Iranian threat, Middle East turmoil and the perceived need to intensify further the U.S.-Israel security alliance. There are a few sessions dealing with the Palestinian issue – some with a pronounced skeptical tone when it comes to the peace process.
“Why, despite persistent efforts and an acknowledgment of the general outline for such an agreement, have the parties failed to attain a negotiated peace?” reads the promotional material for one session.
This year’s “AIPAC action principles,” to be considered by the array of American Jewish groups that makes up AIPAC’s executive committee, mention the Palestinians only in the context of keeping them from advancing toward statehood outside the confines of negotiations but do not explicitly endorse the two-state solution. Most of the principles address the security relationship.
Missing also, however, from the AIPAC legislative agenda is any effort to limit U.S. funding of the Palestinian Authority. AIPAC had pushed such efforts in December, after the U.N. General Assembly vote in which the Palestinians gained boosted recognition as a non-member state, but they fell by the wayside in part because of mixed signals from the Israeli government.