NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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AIPAC activists filled the Washington Convention Center for Policy Conference 2010. There were more than 1,300 students in attendance.
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Plenary sessions were in a room big enough to fit the Washington Monument on its side, but a 500-foot screen ensured that every delegate could easily see the stage.

AIPAC Hosts Largest-Ever Policy Conference

More than 7,500 pro-Israel activists from all 50 states converged in Washington, D.C., on March 21-23 for the largest-ever AIPAC Policy Conference. The theme of the conference— "Israel: Tell the Story"—gave delegates an understanding of the ways that Israel is making the world a better place.

Major speakers included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Quartet Representative Tony Blair, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). To watch videos of their speeches—and of every other plenary presentation at Policy Conference 2010—visit www.aipac.org/pc2010.

Clinton Defends Obama Administration’s Policies

Secretary Clinton was speaking during a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and Israeli governments.

“Let me assure you, as I have assured you on previous occasions with large groups like this and small intimate settings, for President Obama and for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever,” Clinton proclaimed.

“And why is that? Why is that? Is it because AIPAC can put 7,500 people into a room in the Convention Center? I don’t think so. Is it because some of the most active Americans in politics and who care about our government also care about Israel? That’s not the explanation. Our countries and our peoples are bound together by our shared values of freedom, equality, democracy, the right to live free from fear, and our common aspirations for a future of peace, security and prosperity...”

Clinton reminded her audience of the many ways that the Obama administration has strengthened Israel’s security. “Under President Obama’s leadership, we have reinvigorated defense consultations, redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, and provided nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance,” she said. “In fact, as Rosy told you, or maybe it was Howard, that assistance increased in 2010 and we have requested another increase for 2011. And something else I want you to know, more than 1,000 United States troops participated in the Juniper Cobra ballistic missile defense exercises last fall, the largest such drill ever held.”

Clinton also recalled how the Obama administration has defended Israel on the world stage. The United States has “led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy,” she said. “We did lead the boycott of the Durban Conference and we repeatedly voted against the deeply flawed Goldstone Report.”

Regarding Iran, Secretary Clinton said “the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” BACK TO TOP

Netanyahu Calls on Abbas to Stop Delaying Peace Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keynoted the AIPAC Gala Banquet, which was attended by more than half of Congress. Netanyahu said that the United States and Israel “stand together because we are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dream—the dream of achieving security, prosperity and peace.”

Netanyahu defended his country against charges that it is not ready for peace. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “My government has consistently shown its commitment to peace in both word and deed. From day one, we called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay. I make that same call today. President Abbas, come and negotiate peace. Leaders who truly want peace should be prepared to sit down face-to-face.”

The prime minister also highlighted a few of the bold steps that he has taken since becoming Israel’s head of government in March 2009. “In the past year, my government has removed hundreds of roadblocks, barriers and checkpoints in the West Bank,” he said. “As a result, we have helped spur a fantastic economic boom there. Finally, we announced an unprecedented moratorium on new Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria.” BACK TO TOP

Schumer and Graham Express Bipartisan Support in Congress for Israel

Also speaking at the Gala Banquet were two longtime supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Graham was enthusiastic. At one point, he called on every member of Congress in the room to stand. “On behalf of every person standing,” he then said, “to our friends in Israel, to AIPAC: The Congress has your back! We will not let you down!”

To prove his point about the bipartisan congressional support for Israel, he added: “If you want to know how wide and deep the support for Israel runs, I’m a Baptist Republican from South Carolina; the next speaker is a Jewish senator from New York, Chuck Schumer—that’s as wide as it gets. You can put the whole planet in the middle.”

Regarding Iran’s ongoing nuclear program, Graham was clear. “We must not allow this Iranian theocracy to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said. “It’s not enough to be determined. We have to say without any hesitation: it will not happen.”

Speaking next, Schumer also addressed the recent tension between the United States and Israel. “The bond between the U.S. and Israel will be maintained regardless of the ups and downs of the peace process, regardless of the internal Israeli politics,” Schumer said, adding that it is important the Arab world knows that the U.S.-Israel alliance is “immutable and unbreakable through good times and the bad.”

On Iran, Schumer was blunt. “Diplomatic efforts have clearly failed,” he stated. “I believe that when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table. But I have long argued that economic sanctions are arguably the most effective way to choke Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Schumer called on President Obama to immediately implement the sanctions bill that Congress will soon place on his desk. BACK TO TOP

Blair: I’m Proud of Being Labeled “A Friend of Israel”

On the final day of the conference, delegates heard from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is currently the representative of the Middle East Quartet.

“I am always described as a friend of Israel,” Blair said. “It is true, I am and I’m proud of it. And I’ll tell you why I’m proud of it. Israel is a democracy. The politicians are in fear of the people, not the people in fear of the politicians. Citizens are governed by the rule of law, men and women are recoiled before the law. In Israel, where you can worship your faith in the way you want or not as you choose. There is freedom of thought and speech. Israeli society is vibrant, its art electrifying, its culture open. In many respects, the Middle East region should regard Israel not as an enemy, but as a model.”

Blair explained his goal in simple terms: “A state for the Jewish people, a state for the Palestinian people. It means that once there is an agreement on the contours of a Palestinian state, that is that, the end of all claims, a settlement that is final. It means the Palestinian state has to be viable, independent and democratic.”

Blair said he sympathized with Israel’s security concerns. “I wouldn’t take risks with my country’s security,” he said. “I don’t ask Israel to take risks with theirs. Israel can’t afford what happened in Gaza in 2006, happening in the West Bank in 2012. Rockets from Gaza, yes, with difficulty it can survive. Rockets a few minutes from Ben-Gurion it cannot. So when Israelis say they doubt if they have a partner for peace, it is not only about whether Palestinian leaders want peace, but whether they can deliver peace.”

Next year’s Policy Conference will be held on May 22-24, 2011, in Washington, D.C. To sign up, visit www.aipac.org/pcreg. BACK TO TOP