Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Notes from AIPAC

I'm sitting at the final plenary session of the AIPAC conference. It's been an historic couple of days and I'll have a much more complete report when I get home. Since I am doing this on an iPhone, some quick notes:

· PM Netanyahu was very forceful and persuasive last night, saying, "Israel is not what's wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what's right with the Middle East." In saying that, he affirmed the widespread assumption that the Arab spring uprisings have nothing to do with Israel. That implies that anti-Semitism is not the driving force of the Arab Street, which means that Israel can be seen as a model for democracy rather than as an alien interloper in the region.

· This might be a more optimistic perspective about Arab spring than he wished to convey, because it highlights the opportunities Israel now has to influence positively the voters in Cairo and Ramallah.

· Bibi addressed Congress this morning and he alluded to that address several times. The enormous buildup carries with it the hope that the vision of a new Middle East he reveals will take the peace process off of square 1.

· Largest turnout ever at AIPAC. Huge focus on expanding the tent, especially among non-Jews. The conference achieves the miraculous - we leave here thinking that America's very survival depends on Israel (as well as the reverse) and that Israel is the only issue that unites all Americans: Dem or GOP , Christian and Jew, Black and White - everyone. Thanks in large part to AIPAC, it is true - especially in Congress.

· We are lobbying today with three main agenda items: Crippling sanctions on Iran, uncut foreign aid for all countries, and no negotiating with an unreformed Hamas.

· Call me naive (you won't be the first), but it seems to me that if the sides really want talks, a face saving deal is there to be had. The Palestinians put off unilateral statehood and Hamas is marginalized or reformed and Israel imposes another freeze in settlement construction (not including Jerusalem). That would give each side what it has stated is its prerequisite for getting back to the table. These are desperate times. A UN vote for statehood, if overwhelming, would isolate Israel as never before, even with rock solid US help. This proposed deal would put both sides to the test. Many here feel that Abbas has gone over to the dark side. I'm not so sure. But he now needs to prove it.

We will all be listening to what Bibi says this morning.

Off to the Hill.

You can sign up for next year's AIPAC conference online at half-price now.

Goodbye from DC

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