Clinton and AIPAC – Reactions

[tweetmeme] I know I am pretty late getting to this, but here it is.  Yesterday, Sec. of State gave a speech at the AIPAC convention in Washington (text here and video here).  Gushing over Israel and the special connection between Washington and Tel Aviv was expected.  Before the speech the question was how residual political bravery was left in Hillary after the crisis over settlements and the health care victory.  Reviews were mixed, but seemed to be more positive than negative.

Before the speech, Stephen Walt recommended that Clinton stay strong and tell the lobby that America would not tolerate more settlements:

In her scheduled address to the conference, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel’s existence but make it crystal clear that Washington will no longer tolerate Israel’s self-defeating policy on settlements. She should explain unambiguously that Israel faces a choice: It can end the occupation, embrace a genuine two-state solution, preserve its democratic and Jewish character and remain a cherished U.S. ally. Or it can continue the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza — a course that will eventually force it to abandon either its Jewish character or its democratic principles, and jeopardize its standing with its most important partner.

In her speech, Clinton did just that.  While focusing on the strong bond between Israel and the US, Clinton emphasized the fact that the status quo was untenable – that the current policy would lead either to a loss of democracy or a loss of the Jewish backbone of Israel and emphasized US opposition to Jerusalem construction.  From her speech:

The conflict with the Palestinians and with Israel’s Arab neighbors is an obstacle to prosperity and opportunity for Israelis, Palestinians, and people across the region. But it also threatens Israel’s long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state.

The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations. Staying on this course means continuing a conflict that carries tragic human costs. Israeli and Palestinian children alike deserve to grow up free from fear and to have that same opportunity to live up to their full God-given potential…

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

As I said, the speech was met with mixed reviews. J-Street, Americans for Peace Now and Phil Weiss all liked the speech, but the Palestine Center called it proof that the US was not even-handed.

Personally, I was not surprised at the amount of praise that Clinton heaped upon Israel and AIPAC – it was, after all the AIPAC conference, and the administration was trying to ratchet down the amount to bad rhetoric between Israel and the US.  But the calls for peace were important.

Specifically noting that the settlements in Jerusalem needed to stop was daring; reiterating that the peace deal must be based on 1967 lines is not new, but important; and the mention of Israel’s possible loss of its Jewishness was previously no-go territory for US politicians.  Indeed, a quick search reveals some past AIPAC speeches by US politicians that were much less critical of Israel (Bush’s 2004 speech and Cheney’s 2006 speech).

Anyone expecting Clinton to ream out the most powerful group in the Israeli lobby was being unrealistic.  I think that while it is true that the speech revealed (again demonstrated) American bias, it represented a clear line that has been drawn by the Obama Administration.  Clinton’s remarks were not harsh, but were exactly what she needed to say.

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