WASHINGTON – Israel’s top envoy in America warned Fatah leaders on Sunday
against entering a national unity deal with Hamas, arguing that it would set
back prospects for peace.
“We hope that [Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud] Abbas will not follow through on reconciliation with Hamas,” said
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, during the opening plenary of the
annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in the US
capital. “We see that very much as a game-blocker.”
His words came after
comments on another major dynamic affecting the situation between Israel and its
neighbors, the development of the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system
that has intercepted scores of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
characterized the Iron Dome as “a game-changer, not a game-ender.”
ambassador also reaffirmed the Israeli government’s support for direct talks
with the Palestinians “without preconditions, today, anywhere” – including in
Jerusalem, Ramallah or even the Washington Convention Center, a joking reference
to the location of the AIPAC convention.
Given Israel’s fragile security
environment, Oren stressed the importance of US President Barack Obama’s trip to
Israel later in the month. The visit sends an important message that “Israel is
not alone,” Oren said.
Dennis Ross, a Middle East adviser to Obama during
his first term, spoke on an AIPAC panel after Oren and characterized the
president’s upcoming visit to Israel as an opportunity for a new
Obama’s trip, the first of his second administration, comes
after a first term filled with tensions with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
and a grinding peace process that ultimately stalled.
Elliott Abrams, who
served as a Middle East adviser to former president George W.
praised Obama’s decision to travel to Israel but was more blunt about what was
needed for a different era in relations between the two countries, in which
Obama demonstrates to the Israeli public that he understands the challenges they face.
“He’s going to need
to show a kind of delicate medical procedure [called] a kishke transplant,” he
said in reference to the Yiddish expression for “guts,” eliciting laughter from
Abrams expressed concern that the so-called P5+1 world
powers of the US, UK, France, German, China and Russia, in the round of
negotiations with Iran held last week, had weakened their stance by offering to
roll back some of the upcoming sanctions blocking Tehran’s use of gold in
exchange for concessions from Iran.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Just wait,’
and meanwhile of course they do get closer and closer and closer in their
nuclear weapons program,” Abrams said.
“The Iranians have been playing a
rope-a-dope strategy, there’s no doubt about that,” Ross agreed.
said the P5+1 strategy could be constructive if it takes off the mask about
Iran’s nuclear intentions, but it needs to be followed up with consequences if
Iranians don’t meet international demands.
“If [the P5+1] are taking away
excuses that’s fine,” he said. “But at some point the negotiations have got to
focus on verifying, is diplomacy going to work or not?” Some 13,000 attendees
are expected to participate over the course of this year’s three-day conference,
about the same as last year. About 2,000 are high school and college students,
who earned a special shout-out in the introductory event Sunday morning. As a
sign of the massive scale of the gathering, for the first time the convention
center placed stadium seating at the edge of the cavernous conference hall to
accommodate the crowd.
However, AIPAC President Michael Kassen told them
their work wasn’t done, that there were more pro-Israel activists to recruit to
AIPAC’s cause and to bring to the conference.
There was a growing strain
of isolationism throughout America that was “dangerous” for Israel and needed to
be guarded against, he warned.
He also cautioned that the large influx of
new members of Congress meant that supporters of Israel couldn’t take for
granted that legislators in the future would “get it” when it comes to Israel,
and that complacency must be combated. •