PM, Clinton still due at AIPAC parley

Group calls Washington’s statements on Israel “a matter of serious concern.”

March 15, 2010 01:43
3 minute read.
Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary Clinton 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Though the crisis with the US over construction in east Jerusalem continues to percolate, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still plans to travel to Washington next week to participate in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference, sources in his office said Sunday night.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also still expected to address the pro-Israel group, hours before Netanyahu on Monday, according to US officials, despite her tense phone call to the prime minister on Friday berating him for an Interior Ministry panel’s approval of the Ramat Shlomo building plans.

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Confirmation that Netanyahu intended to go ahead with the visit came amid speculation that he might want to avoid a Washington that is up in arms over the announcement last week – during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit – of plans to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

Cancelling the visit because of the crisis would be a “very big deal,” one official said.

No meeting with US President Barak Obama had been scheduled because Obama is due to be on a visit to Indonesia at the time. But he has already postponed the trip by three days, leaving now on Sunday, to help push through a health care bill. He could end up staying on in Washington longer to advance his chief domestic priority, overlapping with Netanyahu.

The two are, however, expected to meet when Netanyahu, along with about 40 other heads of government or state, attends a global summit on nuclear security in Washington in mid-April.

Israel officials said the prime minister was still on track to meet with other top administration officials and congressional leaders during his visit.

“Nothing’s changed. Everything’s going as planned,” an Israeli official said.

He indicated the prime minister would meet with either Clinton or Biden, who had invited the prime minister to visit the White House next week.

The official said the brief trip of only 36 hours would likely mean meeting with only one or the other, and that an anticipated meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates might not materialize. But he said that the schedule had not been affected by the recent tensions.

It was not clear whether Netanyahu would, as originally planned, stop over in Brussels for meetings with EU officials on his way home.

Netanyahu’s decision to attend the conference, which he skipped last year because he had just taken over as prime minister, showed “the importance we attach to AIPAC.”

The Anti-Defamation League was among the first Jewish groups to come out with a statement, saying Saturday night that it was “shocked and stunned at the administration’s tone and public dressing-down of Israel.”

AIPAC issued a statement of its own Sunday night, calling the Obama administration’s recent statements on Israel “a matter of serious concern.”

In rare public criticism of the US government, AIPAC said the administration “should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel,” stressing the shared strategic interests between the two countries.

“The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done to with regard to the urgent issue of Iran's rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors,” the statement continues, strong urging the US to work “closely and privately” with Israel “in a manner befitting strategic allies” to address any outstanding issues.

AIPAC also called on the administration to defuse the tension that has arisen with the Israeli government.

The statement heightened the sense that the current crisis would cast a shadow over the AIPAC policy conference, which is traditionally a massive celebration of the Israel-US relationship.

While the parley was expected this year to focus primarily on the Iranian issue and combating the Goldstone Commission report, it is clear that now the state of Israeli-US relations and the ramifications of the recent blowup on the diplomatic process will be of primary interest, if not in the plenary sessions, than surely in the halls.

On the final day of the conference, when hundreds of delegates fan out across Capitol Hill and lobby their congressmen, it is not expected that the delegates will be armed with talking points on this issue.

In general, these days are spent lobbying representatives on particular acts of legislation, and this year the focus is expected to be on Iran.

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