AIPAC is in deep, deep trouble. First, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee tried, and utterly failed, to destroy President Obama’s critical diplomatic dialogue with Iran by pushing for a new economic sanctions bill that would have ended the US-Iran talks. Now, AIPAC will have to face a real, existential challenge, namely, the about-to-be-released “framework agreement” for the Israel-Palestine conflict, a framework developed by Secretary of State John Kerry over months of shuttle diplomacy in the region. If AIPAC hadn’t confronted the White House over Iran—and lost—it might have more muscle now to fight the Obama-Kerry plan for Israel-Palestine. Instead, AIPAC has alienated the White House and, no doubt, lost credibility with some members of Congress, especially in the Democratic Party, who’ve traditionally followed AIPAC’s lead on the Middle East.
The Obama-Kerry Framework Agreement, which is supposed to be released very soon, could be a very, very big deal. For years, American presidents have promised, or threatened, to release an “American peace plan” for the Middle East, but none of them have had the courage to do so, because doing so would mean taking on AIPAC. Now, it appears, Obama and Kerry are doing it. And they’re doing it with AIPAC in a gravely weakened state.
Lately, Martin Indyk, the Obama administration’s point person on the Middle East, has been making phone calls to American Jewish leaders—no doubt including AIPAC officials—to explain what’s coming. By all accounts, the precise terms of the plan are still in flux, and none of it has been accepted yet by either the Israelis or the Palestinians. But its terms include tens of billions of dollars in financial compensation for Palestinian refugees who have to resettle in the West Bank and Gaza, for settler Jews who’d have to be relocated out of the West Bank and back into Israel, and apparently also for Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries for Israel over decades. Kerry will propose a state roughly based on the 1967 borders, with some changes, and with US and NATO forces taking over security along the Jordan River valley and the creation of a security zone there. And, though it isn’t clear yet, the proposal will have to deal with Jerusalem, which both Israel and Palestine demand as the capital of their respective states, which means dividing that city and providing Palestinian access to it despite the proliferation of illegal Jewish settlements that surround it and that were built precisely to prevent the division of Jerusalem, which Israel claims in whole.
Based on initial reactions so far, the Palestinians seem mostly willing to play along, and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has even specified how long he’d accept the presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank and those forces transition out—either three or five years—and he’s expressed willingness for a US-NATO role in the Jordan River area. But the Israelis, led by a fervently right-wing, ultranationalist government, are not so willing to play along—and that’s where AIPAC may have to weigh in. Unfortunately for the Israel Lobby, however, its credibility is nearly shot.
As M.J. Rosenberg, an astute observer of the lobby and a former AIPAC staffer himself, has said, when it comes to Iran Obama faced down AIPAC and won, handily. As I reported here on January 13, the White House got tough with the Israel lobby and its neoconservative friends last month, when pressure was building for a new anti–Iran sanctions bill. At that time, as I reported, a statement from the White House said: “If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action [against Iran], they should be up front with the American public and say so.” Then, in his State of the Union address, Obama said flatly that he won’t stand for any congressional meddling on Iran:
Let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.
As Rosenberg reports, several leading Democrats in the Senate who’d earlier supported the self-destructive Iran sanctions bill scurried away from it. Says Rosenberg, “AIPAC’s entire campaign to destroy America’s chance to reach an agreement with Iran crumbled.”
Now what can AIPAC do if Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, rejects the Obama-Kerry plan? Not a lot.
To understand the Palestinian reaction so far, read the report in The New York Times about Abbas’ interview with that paper on the still-gestating Kerry proposal. Abbas makes what appear to be all-or-nothing comments, perhaps realizing the significance of Kerry’s plan. By the same token, top Israel officials—especially far-right types—have expressed grave alarm about what’s about to be announced, even using exceedingly undiplomatic language. As Avi Shlaim wrote, in a New York Times op-ed over the weekend, “Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners.”
Meanwhile, in an indication that Kerry is ready to play hardball with Israel, in comments made at a security conference in Europe, Kerry actually pointed out that Israel can’t afford to be stubborn because the movement to boycott Israel and to “delegitimize” the state of Israel is gaining momentum:
Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.… You see for Israel, there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.
That, naturally, caused tumult in the Israeli body politic.