With the crisis in Ukraine eclipsing the rest of the international news, you’d never know that the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) unfolded in Washington this week. That’s bad news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose latest warnings about the imminent Iranian nuclear bomb—a bomb that’s been “imminent” since the 1990s—went mostly unheard. But it’s also bad news for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who are planning to unveil their plan for a framework for a two-state solution. Obama met with Netanyahu, of course, and later this month he’ll meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
The big problem for AIPAC, of course, is that they spent all their political capital earlier this year, in vain, trying to impose new sanctions on Iran. Those sanctions would have destroyed the US-Iran talks with the P5+1 and wrecked the chances of a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. It’s not often that AIPAC loses so badly, but lose they did, and it didn’t win them any favors with the Obama administration. They’re still worried about Iran, of course, but with the Obama-Kerry plan about to be unveiled, AIPAC has to refocus on its core issue, namely, Israel and the Palestinians. As the Jewish Telegraph Agency put it, "in the wake of battles over Iran sanctions legislation that pitted the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse against the White House, many congressional Democrats and liberals more generally, AIPAC’s traditional emphasis on Israel as a bipartisan issue has taken on added urgency.
But AIPAC itself is split, and it’s being challenged from the left by groups such as J Street and from the right by ultra-hardliners such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and its patron, Sheldon Adelson. In addition, there’s a new move afoot to create yet another pro-Israel organization, on the far right, that would explicitly oppose a two-state solution of any kind. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, one of its would-be founders expressed the purpose this way:
J Street supports a state of all its citizens, and AIPAC supports a two-state solution…. This has created a situation in which those of us who think that the establishment of a Palestinian state would be a disaster have no way to express this, and there is no organization that will communicate our protestations to the administration in Washington.
That sort of fragmentation can only further weaken both AIPAC and the Israel lobby more broadly. Politico, noting the splits within and about AIPAC, wrote:
As President Barack Obama pushes forward on both an Israeli-Palestinian peace process framework and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program…there’s an active effort among more liberal groups to show that the changing politics in the American Jewish community mean that AIPAC’s positions represent fewer and fewer people, and should be getting less and less attention.
Indeed, neither Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden bothered to speak to AIPAC, and not because of Ukraine, either. They’d decided to pass it up earlier, though Kerry did make an appearance. Kerry filled his speech with the typical boilerplate about US-Israel ties, but he also strongly defended the talks with Iran, something that the Tehran Times picked up on, under the headline: “Kerry voices support for diplomacy with Iran.” Reported the Tehran Times: