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entries tagged with: Howard Kohr


At AIPAC, Clinton gets friendship, Bibi gets love

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to thousands of pro-Israel activists in Washington at the annual AIPAC policy conference on Monday. AIPAC

WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton to AIPAC: We’ll keep complaining about building in Jerusalem.

Benjamin Netanyahu to same: And we’ll keep building.

Guess which speech got the bigger cheers.

To be sure, in speeches this week at the annual AIPAC policy conference, all sides repeatedly stressed complete confidence in the durability and necessity of a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship, and highlighted areas of agreement, first and foremost the need for tough action to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Several key differences were on display, however, as the Israeli prime minister, the U.S. secretary of state, and the leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not back down from their bottom lines.

AIPAC officials insisted that disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington take place behind closed doors. Clinton said the Obama administration will make its unhappiness clear and public when it regards an Israeli action as undermining the peace process.

For Netanyahu and AIPAC, Jerusalem is off the table; for Clinton it’s very much part of the discussion.

Clinton went out of her way to praise the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu went of his way to criticize it.

The two speeches Monday — Clinton for breakfast and Netanyahu for dinner — culminated two weeks of tensions sparked when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that had been aimed at underscoring the close U.S.-Israel friendship and restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“It is our devotion to this outcome — two states for two peoples, secure and at peace — that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem,” Clinton said. “This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it, and staying there until the job is finally done.”

Clinton’s mild rebuke brought surprising, if light, applause. It was a mark of the success of repeated pleas from AIPAC’s leadership to more than 7,500 activists in attendance to keep things civil. Clinton earned standing ovations coming in and out, and there was no audible booing.

Netanyahu’s Jerusalem encomium, by contrast, brought the house down — delivering perhaps the biggest cheers during this year’s conference.

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” he said. “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”

Netanyahu’s message in meetings with U.S. leaders, his spokesmen said, was that the dispute over Jerusalem could delay peace talks by a year.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr and President Lee Rosenberg were equally as determined to make Israel’s point, almost to the word.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Kohr said in the line of the morning that brought the greatest cheering. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Kohr also made the case for keeping such disputes out of public view.

“When disagreements inevitably arise, they must be resolved privately as is befitting close allies,” he said.

That’s been the mantra of AIPAC, along with the center and right in the pro-Israel community — and Clinton turned it around.

The announcement of new construction in the west bank and eastern Jerusalem, she said, “exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region 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.”

It was clear, though, that Clinton was sensitive to Israeli and pro-Israel complaints that the opprobrium she had heaped onto Israel — she called the building announcement an “insult” — was one-sided and that she had ignored Palestinian violations.

In fact, her spokesmen have condemned Palestinian incitement. And Monday, Clinton picked up the two signal issues that have exercised Israel’s advocates: the naming of a public square in Ramallah for a terrorist who led a deadly 1978 attack, and Palestinian rioting greeting the rededication of an Old City synagogue destroyed during the 1948 Independence War.

“These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace,” Clinton said to applause.

Clinton leavened her calls for an end to incitement by attempting to shift blame for the naming of the square from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority to Hamas. And she had praise for the PA leadership.

“We commend the government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for the reforms they’ve undertaken to strengthen law and order, and the progress that they’ve made in improving the quality of life in the west bank,” she said.

Netanyahu had only criticism.

“What has the Palestinian Authority done for peace?” he asked. “They have placed preconditions on peace talks, waged a relentless international campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and promoted the notorious Goldstone report that falsely accuses Israel of war crimes.”

AIPAC, Israel, and the Obama administration have differences on Iran as well. AIPAC activists pushed hard for enhanced Iran sanctions when they lobbied Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill, while the administration wants time to exhaust the prospect of multilateral sanctions.

Here, though, Clinton was able to throw the crowd some meat, saying that whatever sanctions emerged, they would not be glancing.

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions but sanctions that will bite,” she said. “It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these nuclear weapons.”

Rosenberg, just inaugurated as AIPAC’s president and a key fund-raiser in candidate Barack Obama’s presidential run, also made sure to hit affectionate notes, noting Clinton’s pronounced pro-Israel record in her eight years as a U.S. senator from New York. Among other things, she led the successful effort to force the International Committee of the Red Cross to recognize Israel’s Magen David Adom.

Netanyahu made sure to praise Obama for increasing security cooperation.

“From one president to the next, from one Congress to the next, America’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering,” he said. “In the last year, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given meaning to that commitment by providing Israel with military assistance, by enabling joint military exercises, and by working on joint missile defense.”

Kohr, the longtime AIPAC director, used the policy conference to outline the group’s priorities. He focused on gaining Israel its deserved entry into the international community through membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which coordinates economic policy in the developed world; getting Israel a seat on the U.N. Security Council; and forging a closer relationship between Israel and NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

All have been Israeli priorities for years, but throughout the Bush administration and the prevalence of neoconservatism in its foreign policy, AIPAC’s embrace of these issues was low-grade. In fact, in making the case for advancing Israel in the United Nations, Kohr even asked: “Now, some of you may be asking, why does it matter?”

He ran through an explanation of the U.N. Security Council’s powers, but left unsaid why else it matters: The Obama administration’s emphasis on multilateralism and on working out differences in international forums. Kohr was telling his activists that this was the new Obama order.

News Analysis

Perhaps most telling was where Clinton ad-libbed away from her prepared remarks and revealed a soft affection for Israel and its friends.

She delivered a prepared line about “pioneers who found a desert and made it bloom,” then paused and said, “There were people who were thinking, how could that ever happen? Ahh, but it did.”

She amended a line about warriors offering peace to describe them as “so gallant in battle.” Clinton asked the crowd if they thought she thought it necessary to speak “because AIPAC can get 7,500 people in a convention center? I don’t think so.”

In her lengthiest unscripted passage, Clinton recalled traveling the world during the 1990s, the heyday of Arab-Israeli peace talks, and never hearing anyone mention the conflict outside the confines of the Middle East. These days, she said, its periodic explosions into war is often the first item, however far-flung her travels.

It was a gentle unsettling of the belief that the Israel-U.S. relationship exists in a bubble unaffected by outside realities.

“We cannot escape the impact of mass communications,” Clinton said. “We can only change the facts on the ground.”


For a first person account of the AIPAC conference, go to ‘We prayed with our feet’.


Obama pitches Jewish groups on START treaty ratification

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 10 December 2010

WASHINGTON – The campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear program just acquired a new deadline: the end of the 111th Congress.

The Obama administration has made a priority of ratifying the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia before the Senate’s lame-duck session finishes at year’s end. A number of Republicans, citing what they say are weaknesses in the treaty, are balking.

The treaty, which was approved in September by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, needs 67 senators for ratification.

News Analysis

President Obama’s overarching consideration in negotiating the treaty has been to keep two of his election promises: to reduce nuclear arms and to “reset” what had been a troubled relationship with Russia.

Another key component of the White House rationale in advancing START is further isolating Iran as a means of getting the Islamic Republic to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Vice President Joe Biden hosted a chat last Friday with journalists who reach constituencies that the White House is eager to win over. At the session, to which JTA was invited, top national security officials said that ratifying START was vital in keeping Russia on board on Iran.

“Once we finished in Geneva, signed the treaty in April, within a very short time we were working with the Russians on intensive sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council,” said Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, who led negotiations with Russia.

Mike McFaul, the special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia, said that Russia not only signed on to the sanctions — the toughest yet passed by the U.N. Security Council — but also suspended the sale of the S-300 anti-missile system to Iran.

“That especially hurts Russia’s economic and geopolitical interests,” he said of the sanctions and the suspension of the S-300 sale.

“Let’s just be blunt about it because [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev has been blunt about it,” McFaul said. “He said unlike the START treaty, which he mentioned while we were in Prague was a win-win for the United States and Russia, this sanctions resolutions is asymmetric,” but that the relationship with the United States in the long run is going to be more valuable to Russia than that relationship with Iran.

The White House and top Democratic senators have reached out to Jewish groups to support ratification. In a letter leaked to Politico, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) — both Jewish and invested with credibility on Israel and defense issues — appealed to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to openly support START.

“As a leading voice in favor of crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime, AIPAC cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as the Senate debates the New START treaty,” said the letter addressed to AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr.

The blunt appeal outraged some conservatives, who argued that it was untoward to pressure the Jewish community on a matter not directly related to Israel.

“Your letter — an effort to pressure an organization to lobby on a matter far outside its expertise and area of concern — is a disgrace,” the Emergency Committee on Israel wrote in a letter to Schumer and Levin. “We’ve rarely seen senators stoop to this kind of public bullying.”

In fact, pro-Israel leaders said, such give-and-take is par for the course in Washington and characterized the Bush administration effort in 2002 and 2003 to garner Jewish support for the Iraq War.

“Every administration from time to time with foreign policy has an interest” it wants the Jewish community to support, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It happens from time to time. In this case they called, we said we’d take a look. We took a look, we agreed.”

While Israel has been silent on START because it does not directly concern the country, Israeli leaders in recent months have expressed relief at the suspension of the S-300 deal. They feared that delivery would substantially inhibit the prospects of any strike aimed at disabling an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Medvedev’s announcement helped push back Israeli predictions of an imminent Iranian nuclear capability.

While AIPAC remained silent, Patrick Clawson, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is close to the organization, said failure to ratify START posed dangers.

“Lack of ratification of START may well lead to Russian retaliation on a variety of issues,” Clawson told JTA.

Ultimately, much of the community was on board for START: In addition to the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, J Street, and the National Jewish Democratic Council endorsed ratification, and B’nai B’rith International said it could prove useful in isolating Iran.

The sole unequivocal voice in opposition was the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs.

“We seriously question whether Russia is serious about stopping Iran, with or without START,” JINSA said in an open letter.

JTA Wire Service

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