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February 28, 2013

Iran, Israel and Palestinians To Top AIPAC Convention

by Meredith Buel

Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expected to top the agenda when the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC holds its annual convention beginning Sunday in Washington.  The convention convenes as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for a visit to the Middle East - including his first trip to Israel as president.

Every year, thousands of Jewish Americans arrive in Washington for the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - or AIPAC.

The group is the most influential pro-Israel lobbying organization in the U.S.

Ori Nir is spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, which promotes a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“This gathering always sends a message that, as far as I am concerned, is a very positive message, that the American public stands with Israel, that Israel has major support here in the United States,” Nir said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is to address the convention along with many members of Congress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appear via satellite.

Once again, concern over Iran’s nuclear program is expected to top the agenda.

President Barack Obama addressed the convention last year.

“No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction,” Obama said.

The AIPAC gathering comes just a few weeks before President Obama travels to the Middle East, where Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops are clashing again.

Some analysts say this ongoing conflict is why Israel and the Palestinians should be brought back to the bargaining table.

“You now have a complicated situation in the region, in the Arab Spring and the uprisings. It is a reason to move faster, not to ignore it,” said Daniel Kurtzer of Princeton University.

At the start of his first term, President Obama made Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking a top priority.

But talks stalled over Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Now Obama may try again.

“But I think if he could connect with, not just the Israeli public but also the Palestinian public, and find a way to say I still care about this issue,” said David Makovsky, an analyst at the Washington Institute.

Direct involvement of the President would bring hope.

“We hope that it does signal a seriousness of intent in terms of re-engaging in a positive and constructive way," said Hanan Ashrawi, a major figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The civil war in Syria will be another important topic when President Obama visits the volatile Middle East.