In a break from its stance in recent years, the pro-Israel lobby is pursuing a hard-line agenda toward the Palestinian Authority at its annual conference, as 10,000 activists prepare to carry its message to Capitol Hill.
The lobbying agenda of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee traditionally includes two elements over the past several years — ensuring foreign aid to Israel and tightening sanctions against Iran in order to block its nuclear ambitions — that are once again being stressed this year.
But at its current annual conference, which runs through Tuesday, May 24, the third lobbying issue is directed at the P.A. Once depicted by Israel’s supporters, and by Israel itself, as Israel’s negotiating partner for peace, the P.A. is now portrayed as the key obstacle to progress. Specifically, AIPAC is taking issue with two recent moves made by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas — his insistence on bringing the issue of Palestinian statehood to a vote at the United Nations General Assembly in September, and the decision to enter a unity government with Hamas without insisting that the group, which currently governs Gaza, recognize Israel and renounce terror.
AIPAC delegates, as they embark on lobbying meetings on Tuesday, will ask their representatives to support resolutions in the House and Senate that reaffirm the American opposition to a unilateral Palestinian move at the U.N. and threaten the P.A. with cutting American aid if it moves forward with the Hamas unity agreement.
The House resolution, co-sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, urges the administration “to consider suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority pending a review of the unity agreement.”
The administration has yet to take an official position regarding the future of American aid to the P.A.
In the past, AIPAC has supported American aid to the P.A., although it pushed Congress to adopt legislation restricting the flow of American taxpayer dollars to elements involved in terror within the Palestinian government. Leaders of AIPAC have met regularly with Abbas and with his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. Now, the break with the Palestinian leadership seems deeper than ever.
In his speech May 23 at the AIPAC policy conference, the group’s executive director, Howard Kohr, accused Abbas of making “bad choices” and said Abbas has “traveled a long and winding path, taking him farther and farther away from the neighbor he needs to sit down and negotiate with.” Kohr tasked AIPAC activists with the need to block Abbas, declaring, “It is up to us to create resistance.”
At the same time, Kohr struck a cautious note when it came to the dispute that erupted between Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration. In a speech viewed as the lobby’s annual declaration of priorities, the AIPAC leader noted the importance of containing differences between the United States and Israel. “It is so important that America and Israel work out whatever differences arise between them privately and, when tensions do arise, that the leaders work together to close those gaps,” Kohr said, adding immediately, “The president’s speech to us yesterday reflected just such an effort to close those gaps.”
Still, Kohr seemed to put the onus of maintaining no daylight between the two countries mainly on the side of Obama. He called on the United States to remain an honest but not evenhanded broker for Middle East peace. “When the United States is evenhanded,” he said, “Israel is automatically at a disadvantage.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.