Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Power of AIPAC

Stephen Walt, writing in the WaPo, describes the difficulties Obama faces to reaching a Israeli/Palestinian settlement. It is depressingly familiar, especially the power of the Israel Lobby in Washington.
And then there is the Israel lobby. The good news is that there is a new
pro-Israel organization, J Street, which is committed to the two-state solution
and firmly behind Obama. The bad news is that the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) and other defenders of the status quo remain powerful, and
they will surely oppose any attempt to pressure Netanyahu. In May, for example,
AIPAC drafted a letter warning Obama to "work closely and privately" with
Israel. It garnered 329 signatures in the House and 76 names in the Senate.
During the August recess, 56 members of Congress visited Israel, and House
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that it was a mistake to
make settlement construction the key issue and that there was a "significant
difference" between settlements in the West Bank and those in East Jerusalem.

If Obama tries to make aid to Israel conditional on a settlement freeze,
Congress will simply override him. Putting real pressure on Israel risks
alienating key politicians and major Democratic fundraisers, as well as Israel's
supporters in the media, imperiling the rest of Obama's agenda and conceivably
his prospects for reelection. Moreover, several of Obama's top advisers, such as
Dennis Ross, are enthusiastic supporters of America's "special relationship"
with Israel and would almost certainly oppose using U.S. leverage to force
Israeli concessions. Obama and special envoy George Mitchell are negotiating
with one hand tied behind their backs, and Netanyahu knows it.

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