An interesting morning at the AIPAC policy conference. Then again, how could it not be with President Barack Obama addressing more than 10,000 participants only days after giving a major policy address on the Middle East?
I half expected a purely political speech, reaffirming his strong support for Israel, using key slogans like Israel’s qualitative military edge and banging away at Iran, and avoiding his call the other day for peace negotiations kith the Palestinians based on the 1967, with negotiated land swaps.
Instead, Obama addressed the issue head on.
In an almost stern tone, he referred to how his comments have been “misrepresented” – presumably by those pro-Israel activists who say he called for a return to the exact borders of 1967, which polite critics call “indefensible” and less polite ones call “Auschwitz borders.”
I thought he made a strong case for himself.
He said that “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means that “the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”
Then, an almost chiding tone: “If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.”
His core argument: with the winds of change sweeping across the Arab world, with growing attempts to delegitimize Israel – which he promised his administration would “steadfastly” oppose – and with the Palestinian effort to bypass direct negotiations with its UN General Assembly gambit, the “status quo is unsustainable” and time is running out.
It wasn’t his best speech, in terms of delivery, but it struck me as a good balance between satisfying the pep rally atmosphere of every AIPAC conference and appealing to Jewish campaign givers on hand, many of whom were in the room – and clarifying without backing down comments that have caused significant controversy in the Jewish world, in large measure because of how they have been spun, on the other.
What I didn’t hear: any indication of what his administration plans to do NEXT to revive the peace talks he says are so vital.
There was lots more; read it yourself here.
Obama was introduced by AIPAC president Lee Rosenberg, a longtime political supporter and fellow Chicagoan, who publicly urged delegates to give the president a friendly reception.
Mostly they did, with just a few catcalls, and the predictable standing ovations.
There was an awkward movement during the preliminary speeches when the cameraman for the giant TV screens that stretched for about a city block across the convention hall projected a big image of a protestor wearing a bright green “Boycott Israel” T- Shirt.
Speaking of demonstrators, there were more of them, and they were louder, than at previous AIPAC conferences, but I didn’t see that the press or the delegates paid them much attention.