At AIPAC, Mideast Peace Process Is Way Down the Agenda

Lobby's Effort to Sidestep Issue May Be Nearing End

All Smiles: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr before addressing the crowd in Washington, D.C.
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All Smiles: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr before addressing the crowd in Washington, D.C.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 05, 2014.
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It was not surprising, then, that the Palestinian issue took up only a small part of the agenda at the AIPAC conference. The issue was hardly mentioned on stage and was discussed only in few breakout sessions.

In briefings to activists before sending them off to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill, AIPAC gave very general guidelines on the issue, asking its members to stress Israel’s commitment to peace and the lobby’s gratitude to Kerry’s efforts.

AIPAC set out five key elements in its discussion of the peace process, all of which have to do with general outlines rather than specifics. The lobby is calling on the administration to insist on direct and bilateral talks; to work closely with Israel; to refrain from imposed solutions; to encourage Arab countries to play a supportive role, and to back Palestinian leaders who commit to peace.

Netanyahu, addressing the AIPAC conference, presented much clearer outlines. A peace agreement, according to Netanyahu, should include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and rejection of the Palestinian right of return. It should exclude any deployment of international peacekeepers along the Jordan Valley. The Israeli prime minister also laid out a tough stance on Jerusalem, whose final status it to be determined in the negotiations. He described Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.” The Palestinians, who see it also as the future capital of their own state, are calling for some form of shared sovereignty.

Kerry’s outlines for a peace accord included nuances that diverged from Netanyahu’s. On the Palestinian refugee issue he spoke of a “just and agreed solution.” On Jerusalem, he offered only a vague statement noting the need for a resolution that “finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace.”

AIPAC’s action principles, formally adopted by the group in the opening of its three-day conference, tread a thin line on these issues. They do not discuss security arrangements, borders or the refugee issue and speak generally on Jerusalem, expressing support for “global recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” The list also includes support for “global recognition of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”

Kerry’s framework is expected to be much more detailed, pushing the lobby to takes sharper positions, especially as Israel’s supporters in Congress begin floating legislative ideas opposing some of Kerry’s stands. AIPAC is also expected play a role in making sure that any future deal includes a boost in American foreign aid to Israel.

In his speech to the conference, AIPAC’s president, Bob Cohen, indicated that the lobby is anticipating a bumpy ride once the American plan is presented. “The US-Israel relationship,” he told members of the lobby when discussing the lobby’s position on Kerry’s plan, “rests upon interests that transcend any single issue.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter @nathanguttman


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