Hussein Ibish
National Public Radio (NPR)
All Things Considered
June 7, 2010 - 12:00am

Full transcript below:

GUY RAZ, host:Now, the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, is proud of its reputation as one of the most powerful advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.

The question I asked Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, is whether pro-Israel groups are losing influence under the Obama administration.

Dr. HUSSEIN IBISH (Senior Fellow, The American Task Force on Palestine): I think Israel's influence in Washington is changing. There is now the emergence of this pro-Israel camp, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and others, which is a different way of being pro-Israel, but they're certainly pro-Israel.

I think that the attitude of groups like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee and others towards a two-state agreement has similarly transformed. In the past, it was very hard to get them to talk about that seriously. Now I think they're very close to being committed to it, if they're not fully committed to it.

So, in a sense, there's been a transformation there. In another way, though, I think the American-Israeli relationship has transformed so that the core bedrock now is less cultural and affiliational and almost, in a way, more military and intelligence ties are sort of the bedrock.

In other words, the challenge facing pro-Israel advocacy now is slightly different than it was when they had to always secure the budget and always make sure to protect the special relationship, which is now, I think, protected by these military intelligence ties and then all the ties that flow from that.

So it becomes, I think, a challenge of managing a kind of institutional relationship that's really deeply rooted.

RAZ: Are we in the midst, in a sense, of a paradigm shift? I mean, you've got the scathing report from the UN on Israel's conduct during the Gaza war that began in the end of 2008. There was the recent botch assassination...

Dr. IBISH: Yup.

RAZ: Dubai by Israeli operatives, the Israeli government's conflict with the Obama administration on settlements and so on, and now, of course, the pressure over the Gaza blockade, international pressure. Do you see an opportunity...

Dr. IBISH: Yes.

RAZ: ...for pro-Palestinian advocacy groups in Washington right now?

Dr. IBISH: Definitely, there is one if they take advantage of it. And I think to do that, you have to appeal to the American national interest to get people's attention.

I think there are three paradigm shifts. The first is the one most obviously implicit in your question that there's a new context in which Israeli conduct is being viewed internationally, including in the United States and maybe, in a way, especially in the United States.

There's a second very important paradigm shift on the Palestinian side, especially in the West Bank, where you've seen a real commitment to emerging non-violent strategies, state and institution building in a very high level, settlement boycotts that's non-violent and tries to make a distinction between the settlements and Israel itself. This is a major paradigm shift in the Palestinian approach.

And there's a third paradigm shift and I think it's very important in the context of the ability of pro-Palestine groups in Washington to have a seat at the table, which is I think we are now increasingly, all of us - Jewish Americans, Arab Americans and others, understanding this is not a zero sum conflict. It's not as if everything good for Israel is bad for the Palestinians and vice versa.

But I think it's becoming increasingly clear on both sides we need a partnership and we need it now, because our friends and relatives in the Middle East and our own country here need the same thing, which is a peace agreement, a two-state peace agreement.

RAZ: Hussein Ibish, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be in Washington next week to meet with President Obama.

Dr. IBISH: Right.

RAZ: Given the international outcry over Israel's recent actions, does President Abbas come to Washington with more leverage than ever before?

Dr. IBISH: Not really. I think in a sense, the person who has more leverage is President Obama, and more leverage over Prime Minister Netanyahu, not over Prime Minister Abbas who he has a very great leverage over anyway. Palestinians don't have a lot of cards.

And I think President Abbas comes, I think, to some extent, political weakened by this. It has bolstered his opposition, which is Hamas. It has, I think, encouraged the narrative that confrontation, which can involve bloodshed and that sort of thing is the way to go. I think President Obama is politically strengthened vis a vis Israel, because if the United States had not been there holding off the international community, watering down the Security Council resolution that we voted for, which is still strong, but did not contain a demand for an international inquiry, I think the Israelis are going to be facing a united and much more hostile international community. They must suddenly realize how much value this has to them and we'll see how that plays itself out.

RAZ: That's Hussein Ibish. He's a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

Hussein Ibish, thanks for coming on.

Dr. IBISH: Thank you so much.


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