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AIPAC Abandons Opposition To A Palestinian State

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 1999

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s most influential lobbying group in behalf of the state of Israel, has dropped its opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state, a major change that, The Washington Times (May 26, 1999) reports, "could positively influence U.S. attitudes toward a new Arab entity on Israeli borders . . . The move by AIPAC . . . would be likely to hasten U.S. administration and congressional acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if Israel accepts one."  

On May 17, Israeli voters elected Ehud Barak as prime minister, a move which many believe will restart the peace process. AIPAC’s annual policy conference, held May 23-25 in Washington, D.C., represented an effort to mend fences with Barak. The Forward (May 21, 1999) reports that, "AIPAC is playing catch-up with Israel’s newly elected prime minister, Ehud Barak. Before the election, Mr. Barak was persona non grata at AIPAC’s policy conference . . . but the group scurried to dispatch an invitation to Mr. Barak the day after his election. Mr. Barak is not rushing to Washington, however . . ."  

Discussing AIPAC’s reversal on the question of a Palestinian state, James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, said the Palestinians "were accused of wanting to destroy Israel" when they called for much less than statehood less than 10 years ago, "AIPAC now catches up with reality . . . Now AIPAC catches up with where the rest of us have been."  

AIPAC’s Executive Committee accepted a recommendation from its Policy Statement Committee supporting "a political solution in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians that would permit the exercise of Palestinian self-government." In making the policy change, AIPAC deleted a phrase that appeared in 15 consecutive annual statements saying it was "opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state."  

According to The Washington Times, "An aide to a key House committee said the AIPAC action ‘is not going to get a negative reaction on the Hill, at least not from people who follow this very closely.’ Rather, he said, the policy change ‘will enable (members of Congress) to talk about the totality of what the Palestinians have, not discuss it issue by issue like each road, each town.’  

"The Clinton Administration has been careful not to use words such as ‘rights’ or ‘self-determination’ or ‘state’ when referring to the Palestinians, but some sources said that could change now that AIPAC does not oppose a Palestinian state."  

The Washington Jewish Week (May 27, 199 notes that, "Some activists saw the cautious approach . . . and the dropping of AIPAC’s opposition to Palestinian statehood as overtures to Barak and those within the Labor Party who believe that the lobby has been too supportive of the more conservative Likud over the years. There has been some grumbling among some Labor officials, such as Yossi Beilin, and some aides to Barak that AIPAC has not been fully supportive of the peace process and has caused unnecessary conflict with the Clinton administration with some of its lobbying efforts."  

Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington media consultant who advised Barak during his campaign said, without specifically naming AIPAC, that during the next several months those who have been critical of the peace process will have a clear opportunity to show their support for Barak. "There are going to be very tough and very fast-paced negotiations . . . and the agreements they reach are going to have the support of over three-quarters of the Knesset and the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people. Political commentators and neo-conservatives in Washington and elsewhere in the American Jewish leadership had better get on board. People say they support the duly elected government of Israel. We’ll see very shortly."

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