AIPAC stalwarts hold plenary
'Road map,' Iraq war, lobbying Europe top group's agenda
by Paula Amann
Washington Jewish Week
Israeli-Palestinian strife brought more bloodshed, and a U.S.-led war on Iraq moved into its second week, trailing in its wake strains between Washington and top European allies.
With such international dramas churning the headlines, Capitol Hill's leading lobby group for Israel steamrolled into town this week for its annual conference. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee drew more than 5,000 activists -- hundreds of college students among them -- to the District's Washington Hilton Hotel. The plenary included, for the first time, a contingent of French Jews.
The overflow gathering took place even as rifts appeared in the pro-Israel movement over a "road map" toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Proposed by the Quartet, consisting of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the plan is seen by some as tilting less strongly to Israel than a vision for peace that President George W. Bush set forth in a speech last June 24.
As the Iraq war overshadowed their program, AIPAC members largely cheered U.S. military policies toward Baghdad and welcomed a leader of the country's Christian right, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
Meanwhile, AIPAC leaders voiced concern over growing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment as far away as Europe and as close as Washington itself.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) both promised at the conference banquet Monday evening Senate passage of $10 billion in aid and loan guarantees for Israel by the end of next week.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom took the podium at a plenary alongside Secretary of State Colin Powell. In his first major speech to an American Jewish audience since being named to his post, Shalom paid tribute to "rock solid" U.S.-Israel bonds, saying, "Just as you stand by us, we stand by you."
Affirming Israel's desire for peace and commitment to the ideas set forth in Bush's June 24 speech, Shalom called the naming of new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) a "first step in the right direction."
In a forceful speech on Monday, AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr warned of postwar diplomatic risks for Israel.
"Israel should not be asked to pay for the rebuilding of [America's] alliance with the Europeans or enhancing our standing in the Arab world, by pursuing a path that will not lead to peace," Kohr said, to applause.
The next day, he noted, AIPAC members would lobby Capitol Hill for, among other things, a letter to President George W. Bush endorsed by Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other members of Congress urging four requisites for peace.
According to the letter, these steps, all on the Palestinian side, comprise: a halt to terror and violence; new leaders who will crush the terrorist network; accountable, transparent governance and a revamped security force that fights terrorism.
Outside the conference, the dovish Israel Policy Forum warned that pushing one-sided terms could derail any post-war peace efforts.
"The road map is balanced; the letter is utterly unbalanced," said M.J. Rosenberg, Washington office director for IPF, which draws its board members from such groups as AIPAC, American Jewish Committee and former leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"It's designed to send a message to the Bush administration to ignore those parts of the road map that call on Israel to end violence against the Palestinians, to impose a settlement freeze, ease conditions for Palestinians and end targeted assassinations -- in exchange for Palestinians ceasing all violence against Israel."
In contrast, top U.S. officials who spoke at the AIPAC conference had demands for all sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Greeted with two standing ovations as he arrived on Sunday, Powell used his speech to underscore "road map" mandates.
Saying that "settlement activity is simply inconsistent with President Bush's two-state vision" and restating Bush's recent words that "as progress is made towards peace, settlement activity in occupied territory must end," Powell drew applause -- and some audible boos.
But his statement that "the president's vision requires an end to the use of violence and terror as a political tool" brought delegates to their feet.
Powell said the road map would be unveiled once the new Palestinian prime minister takes office.
In her off-the-record appearance Monday morning, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice twice stressed that all sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have to pony up, reported Jewish officials.
"All sides must fulfill their responsibilities," Rice was quoted as saying. "Palestinians must reject terror and move forward with reform; as progress is made, Israel must end settlement activity in the occupied territory; Arab states must say in the clearest terms that they will live in peace with Israel and take practical steps to achieve that."
In a session on Palestinian reform, David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said the "road map" is "not a peace plan, it is not a treaty, it is not a decree and it is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposal."
It is, rather, what Bush deems "the best way to move ahead" on a peace process that will take sustained effort on the ground by both sides, he stressed.
For the first time, AIPAC's annual banquet moved to the D.C. Armory to accommodate attendees -- a "roll call" announced 60 senators and almost 200 members of the House of Representatives.
In his remarks, Frist emphasized U.S.-Israeli unity.
"We will not be intimidated by the likes of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. And America does not turn its back on its friends," he said.
Daschle sounded a similar theme, stressing that when "Israel chooses to assume risks for peace, Israel has a right to demand concrete and decisive steps against terrorism."
At the opening plenary, Bauer drew multiple standing ovations with his emphatic support of Israel. He told AIPAC delegates that Christians and Jews will stand against "radical Islamic jihadism" and "we will prevail."
Asserting Israel's right to self-defense, Bauer, the president of American Values, said that the idea that Israel should have to make more concessions to reach peace "is an obscenity."
"If you don't believe anything I say this afternoon, please remember this," said Bauer, explaining Christian right support of Israel. "We believe that God had a deed to the land and he, as the owner, gave it to you. É Neither the U.N., the E.U., the Russians, the Quartet or no one else can give away land that doesn't belong to them, but belongs to you."
AIPAC delegates explored the situation for Jews and Israel in Europe at two separate sessions.
"There is not an AIPAC in Europe, but maybe there should be," said Philip H. Gordon, a senior fellow at Foreign Policy Studies and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
Meanwhile, AIPAC's foreign issues director Steve Rosen lamented, "The Jewish community is almost completely absent from French political life."
He urged financial support of nascent efforts there to lobby Paris officialdom.
Washington Jewish Week's Eric Fingerhut and Debra Rubin contributed to this report.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Friday, April 4, 2003