AIPAC Meets to Write U.S. Policy on Iran
The 2009 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference kicks off in Washington to ensure that echelons in the United States continue to do Israel’s bidding on Iran.
An influential roster of lawmakers, including top leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties, gathered on Sunday for a three-day conference that will craft future US policy toward Iran.
Former US House speaker Newt Gingrich, in an opening address to the 7,000 delegates present, advocated regime change in Iran and suggested that US President Barack Obama would never be able to cut a deal with Iranian leaders “because they are in fact evil”.
Gingrich, who is a likely presidential candidate in 2012, said oft-stated Obama administration plans to diplomatically engage Iran manifest “the clearest adoption of weakness since Jimmy Carter.”
Any engagement with Tehran would be at the expense of Israeli interests, an excited Gingrich assured the influential policy-making lobby.
Accusing Tehran of walking down the path of nuclear armament, the Republican heavyweight called for a joint Israeli-US bombing mission to wipe Iranian nuclear sites out of existence.
“We are not going to tolerate Iran getting nuclear weapons,” said the Republican. “We are for the survival of Israel.”
The decisive Republican defeat in the 2008 general elections has prompted party insiders to earmark Gingrich as a senior leader in their quest to redefine the GOP identity and appeal to voters.
Washington, Tel Aviv and a slew of European powers accuse Iran of developing nuclear weaponry — a charge rejected by both Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog, which has so far made “21 unannounced inspections” of the country’s nuclear facilities.
Although the revelation that President Obama would not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC summit prompted him to shun the event, a lineup of Israeli political and military heavyweights attended the meeting in a show of support.
Incoming Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, added to the already charged anti-Iran atmosphere with further talk of Iran wanting atomic bomb mastery. “Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he said.
At another panel discussion, former Israeli deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh dropped hints of a future Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, insisting that Israel prefers to strike Iran, than deal with the “dire consequences” of diplomacy.
“From what we know about the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, this is the deadline for a decision,” he observed.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni struck a tone of unity, saying that while she and Netanyahu have their political differences, they both agree that Iran represents the single greatest threat to Tel Aviv.
Billed as “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel” by the New York Times, AIPAC has been criticized for “distorting American foreign policy in favor of Israel”.
With its intense lobbying power, AIPAC has won bipartisan backing inside Congress to such an extent that the interests of AIPAC, Israel and the United States are widely believed to be the same.
AIPAC won a notable victory on Friday, when prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against two former AIPAC staffers who had been accused of committing espionage violations by passing classified information to the Israeli government and to reporters.
But the group remains in a difficult position. It faces a multi-million-dollar lawsuit from the two staffers alleging that they were wrongfully terminated, and it has been swept up in the mushrooming scandal involving alleged espionage and influence-peddling centred upon Rep. Jane Harman.
More broadly, the administration of President Barack Obama appears set to clash with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom AIPAC has long had close ties, putting the organisation at risk of appearing out of step with the U.S. government.
And the group has faced mounting criticism in recent years on charges that it skews U.S. policy toward Israel in a right-wing direction, and fails to represent the more moderate positions of most U.S. Jews. These concerns led to the formation last year of a rival and more dovish pro-Israel lobby, J Street.
But the AIPAC policy conference, held from May 3-5 in Washington, is a reminder of the considerable influence that the organisation still possesses. >>>
Pouring rain did not prevent more than 6,000 people from attending Sunday’s opening of the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, which is considered one of the city’s 10 biggest political and media events.
Politicians, academics, Jewish community activists and more than 1,000 college students came to participate in the dozens of panels and workshops hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby. The topics ranged from “lobbying for beginners” to various scenarios for both the future of U.S.-Israel relations and developments in the Middle East.
Because this year’s conference coincided with a new administration in Israel, there were more former decision-makers than current ones present. However, President Shimon Peres will attend Monday’s conference session, which will focus on the Iranian nuclear threat, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the gathering by video tonight. >>>
French-language news magazine L’Express reports that the Israeli Air Force recently held air refueling drills between Israel and the small British held territory of Gibraltar, a 3,800 km flight which is leading some to speculate the the nation is making “concrete preparations” for a potential attack against rival Iran. >>>
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister says his country would accept a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians that will include a two-state solution.
“The government of Israel, because of our democratic tradition and because of the continuity principle, is going to abide by all previous commitments the former government took, including the acceptance of the road map to peace which will lead to a two-state solution,” Daniel Ayalon claimed Sunday.
Ayalon was referring to the internationally backed 2002 ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, which offers Israel peace and normal relations with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from all territories occupied in the 1967 war.
This is while hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman begins a four-day visit to Italy, France, the Czech Republic and Germany on Monday, to dispel worries about the new Israeli government’s policy on peace with the Palestinians, the website of Israel’s Ha’aretz daily said.
This comes after the Israeli Avigdor Lieberman, in his first speech as Foreign Minister on April 1, stunned the world when he rejected the past year of US-led negotiations and said that a previous commitment Israel made to Palestinian statehood ‘had no validity’.
Referring to the US-sponsored Annapolis conference, Lieberman said “The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.”
The Russian immigrant who now heads the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) Party in Israel’s coalition government has rejected any notion of concessions to Palestinians and declared that “whoever thinks that through concessions peace will be achieved is mistaken. He is only inviting pressure and more wars.”
In turn, upon taking office as Prime Minister, Netanyahu also rejected the idea of a Palestinian statehood and instead suggested Palestinian ‘self-rule’.
All the while, the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in Occupied Territories together with Israel’s ‘Separation Wall’ are creating ‘facts on the ground’, which undermine the viability of any Palestinian State that might be allowed to come into existence with the acquiescence of Israel, beyond isolated ‘Bantustans’ entirely surrounded and dependent on Israel for their survival.
In the face of these facts, foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) said last month that the bloc’s ties with Israel might deteriorate if the government of the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ditches the two-state solution for ending the conflict.
Israeli President Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama on May 5. Netanyahu will visit Washington later this month in order to ensure US support for Israel.