The Takeaway

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Over the next three days, journalist Simona Fuma will be guest blogging from the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. This is the largest gathering of the American-Israel political action committee, where the organization’s direction is decided, steered, and reengineered.

Now that the AIPAC conference is over, what is the buzz on the street? Lots of pundits are saying that Netanyahu and the Obama administration are headed for a collision course on two issues: a Palestinian state, and Iran.

First, as regards the Palestinians: In his speech to AIPAC yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden called on Israel to freeze settlements, allow Palestinian freedom of movement and increased security responsibility. Meanwhile, on Monday night Rahm Emanuel apparently told a closed reception of top AIPAC donors that making progress towards peace with the Palestinians will make it easier to get regional support to stop Iran. This set off a brief firestorm in Israel, where politicos fearfully interpreted this to mean that the administration intended to “link” the Iran issue with Israeli progress on the Palestinians.

In any case, the mood and attitude towards negotiations is decidedly cooler in Israel. The editorials in Israel’s three largest dailies this morning all call on Netanyahu to reject American pressure.

“The bottom line is that among Israelis, there is a clear and solid majority against a two-state solution,” states the editorial in the right-leaning Yisrael Hayom. But just to show you how political punditry can be a game of parsing and re-parsing ambiguous statements, Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg claims that Biden’s speech actually was soft on Israel.

Second, Iran. Few dispute that Iran is on the path to acquiring a nuclear weapon in the not-too-distant future. Iran says it wants to destroy Israel. So the question is, what to do about it?

Israel is very, very scared and emphasizes the need for tough action now, and doesn’t rule out military action. AIPAC is trying to pass the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, and has significant support in Congress. But the Obama administration says it does not want to introduce new sanctions right now because they are trying to engage Iran with an attitude of “mutual respect.” By way of a rationale, the administration says it is trying to build international support in case more crippling sanctions are needed later.

Still, I find the administration’s motives somewhat murky. Perhaps, like this journalist, Obama thinks the Iranian threat is overblown and that Israel and its supporters are the bellicose ones.

Or maybe the Obama administration doesn’t mind if the Iranians get nuclear weapons — even though many of its Arab neighbors do. Or maybe he fears confronting Iran because Iran could retaliate by trying to block oil traffic out of the Persian Gulf, sending oil prices sky-high and dashing any prospects for an economic recovery.

At the AIPAC conference on Sunday I met a nice gentleman from th e left-leaning Woodrow Wilson Center who mentioned he was writing a book on Iran. I asked him what he thought of AIPAC’s push for sanctions legislation and he said “it is probably too soon for sanctions.” I just hope his analysis is not out of date by the time he finishes his book.

Read all of MJL’s AIPAC blogs.

Posted on May 6, 2009

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