George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News
June 5, 2008 - 6:21pm

One obvious sign of the influence of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC was once again demonstrated this week as the three US presidential candidates and top government leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were all scheduled to address the pro-Israel lobby group three-day conference in Washington.

An unannounced latecomer was the beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who is facing criminal charges at home and his days in leading Israel may be numbered.

His alibi for the unscheduled visit was his desire to meet with his good friend, President George W. Bush, to discuss according to Israeli press reports, "the Iranian nuclear programme and upgrading the bilateral defence ties" between the two countries. In other words, he is looking for ways, as the Haaretz put it, "to foil Iran's nuclear programme".

Neither Rice nor any of the other speakers, including Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who addressed the conference, attended by some 6,000 persons, have voiced any criticism of Israel or its policies in the region.

How can these two speakers, for example, overlook the continued expansion of Israeli colonies in Palestinian territories (800 new houses are to be built in occupied Arab East Jerusalem), the initial denial of exit visas for a few Gaza students who received Fulbright scholarships to study at US universities, and the siege of the Gaza Strip where 1.5 million Palestinians live, an "abomination" in the opinion of Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu called after his visit there last week.

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who were in the last hours of a bruising primary election campaign, were both surprisingly scheduled to address the convention on Wednesday (as we went to press.)

In her address, Rice raised some hopes when she declared that the US has "a vital interest in peace" between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We will, though, defend against any action that would compromise Israel's security," she promised and, without going into details, she added: "So Israel can be bold in its pursuit for peace - for the United States is fully behind her, and fully committed to her security."

The US goal remained that the contours of a Palestinian state can be reached by next January when a new president takes over.


But it is doubtful that the Arab world has any more trust in these belated promises of the Bush administration, especially after the absence of any significant American role in the recent settlement or near settlement of some major conflicts in the region.

These include the Lebanese constitutional crisis which was on the brink of igniting a second civil war in the country; Hezbollah giving Israel the unidentified remains of Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of an Hezbollah operative; Egypt's ongoing mediation between Israel and Hamas for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and an end to the Israeli siege there; and Turkey's role in the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

Whether the new American administration will fare better remains to be seen. For a start, the colourless remarks of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee amounted to nothing more than blatant pandering.

His address had contributed little to raise hopes and, in fact, sounded not much different than the stance of the Bush administration, especially with regard to negotiating with adversaries such as Iran, much to the delight of the pro-Israel audience.

Scoffing at Obama's "bold new idea" of directly negotiating with the Iranian government, McCain said, "we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on".

McCain also ridiculed Obama's call for a gradual troop reduction in Iraq because this would cause a "catastrophe" that would "profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends".

AIPAC may be pleased with the turnout at its event this week and the lobbying its members had on Capitol Hill but there is no doubt that this pro-Israel lobby is aware that many, including American Jews, are not happy with its policies and tactics.

In fact, AIPAC is now facing new competition from the so-called "J Street Project," composed of prominent US Jews who believe that AIPAC "has been dominated for too long by neo-conservatives and other Likud-oriented hawks".

The new group plans to help fund political candidates who favour a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a stronger US role in achieving it.

More to the point, Professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, also pointed out that "the way Congress deals with Israel is not good for America".

He explained to a forum held in Washington last week at a Congressional office building and sponsored by the Council for the National Interest that "it makes for bad foreign policy because the US is in deep trouble in the Middle East in good part because of its special relationship with Israel, which enjoys unquestioned support on Capitol Hill".

His point is that it would make much more sense to treat Israel the way the US treats other countries, emphasising "it makes no sense to back the Jewish state no matter what it does".


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017