The stage at the 2017 AIPAC conference..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee opens its annual policy conference on Sunday hoping to take advantage of tempered political discourse around Israel, after enduring several years of turbulence over its positions on Iran and the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Washington’s largest Israel advocacy lobby seeks to reforge its wide base of bipartisan congressional support, somewhat damaged after taking on former US president Barack Obama over a nuclear deal signed by Tehran and world powers in 2015.
That year’s conference laid bare the difficulties AIPAC faces in taking on a sitting president, with several Democratic leaders facing an unreceptive audience or simply failing to attend.
Last year also posed a challenge to the lobby as its audience was measured in the press by reactions to Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
AIPAC officials now hope to leave those difficult years behind and prove once again that its event is a rare bipartisan gathering in the US capital, one such official told The Jerusalem Post
The organization will push for legislation targeting Iran’s nonnuclear activities, such as its ballistic missile testing and arms transfer programs. And after facing scrutiny over its position on a two-state solution, the lobby is now preparing to highlight its support for such an outcome, the official added.
“We will always talk about our achieving peace through negotiations between the parties, with the goal of a two-state solution,” said the AIPAC official, who anticipates “prominent” references to the two-state paradigm.
“The two-state solution has been, and continues to be, the goal that we aspire to, and that will be a message we’ll continue to send through the conference.”
Whether the Trump administration will outright endorse a two-state solution remains an open question, but its immediate priority is clear: The rebooting of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, geared toward a comprehensive peace agreement.
Lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday targeting Iran's non-nuclear activities timed with the conference– a bill that AIPAC assures will enjoy "significant bipartisan support."
PM Netanyahu's Speech at AIPAC 2015
“We’ve always taken the position that, now that the deal has been made, we’re focusing on both rigorous enforcement of the deal and Iranian malign behavior,” the official said.
“Obviously the actions of the Iranians have reinforced our view that this is a very important aspect of the JCPOA period.”
Iran has warned the US against passing any old, nuclear- related sanctions under a different name, claiming that such a tactic would violate the nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
AIPAC policy experts on Iran insist that this bill will explicitly target individuals and organizations aiding Tehran’s nonnuclear programs, although there may invariably be some overlap, given the suspected military nature of Iran’s historic nuclear work.
The lobby will also advocate Congress to maintain US security assistance and supplemental missile defense funding to Israel, guaranteed this coming year by a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama administration and recognized by the Trump administration’s recent budget. AIPAC officials declined to say whether they plan on lobbying for increases to the set memorandum for the following fiscal year.
AIPAC will also spotlight the delegitimization of Israel in international fora.
“Our centerpiece there will be a Portman-Cardin bill that essentially prohibits American entities from engaging in boycotts of Israel,” the official added, referring to a bill introduced last year by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) that would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit boycotts or requests for boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations against Israel.
US Vice President Mike Pence and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley will address the conference, which will be attended by bipartisan leaders of Congress, including Senate majority and minority leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
Roughly 18,000 people are expected to attend the event, including 3,400 students.