IN­SIDE THE AIPAC CON­FER­ENCE

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

THE AN­NUAL pol­icy con­fer­ence of the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee in Wash­ing­ton, bet­ter known as Aipac, tends to be a rather for­mu­laic af­fair.

Se­nior politi­cians from both na­tions, along with a few other as­sorted guests (this year’s list in­cluded Tony Blair and Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame) line up to ex­tol the “shared val­ues” and “undy­ing spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween the two coun­tries.

This week’s event was no ex­cep­tion and, as usual, it took a lot of sift­ing through plat­i­tudes to get an ac­cu­rate read­ing on the cur­rent sta­tus of ties be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Jerusalem.

Per­haps the most telling quote came in the speech by Ron Der­mer, who is not only Is­rael’s Am­bas­sador to the US, but also, un­of­fi­cially, the clos­est for­eign pol­icy ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

“For the first time in many years,” said Mr Der­mer, “per­haps in decades, there is no day­light” be­tween the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and the US ad­min­is­tra­tion. A dar­ing state­ment, even for the lofty rhetor­i­cal norms of Aipac.

Is the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment re­ally that close to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion? And if so, what does that say about the for­eign poli­cies of both na­tions? In re­cent weeks, a con­stant stream of mes­sag­ing has come from Wash­ing­ton and var­i­ous Trump prox­ies urg­ing Is­raeli re­straint in West Bank set­tle­ment build­ing and promis­ing that this ad­min­is­tra­tion is se­ri­ous about an Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace agree­ment.

The lat­est sig­nal is the in­vi­ta­tion for Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas to drop in on Mr Trump next month — on Pe­sach, no less. If this was hap­pen­ing dur­ing the Obama years, the emer­gency warn­ing lights would be flash­ing in Mr Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice.

But out­wardly at least, Mr Ne­tanyahu seems calm. In his video-con­fer­ence speech beamed to Wash­ing­ton, he promised that “Is­rael is com­mit­ted to work­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump to achieve peace with the Pales­tini­ans and all our Arab neigh­bours”. Is any of this se­ri­ous? The hard right in Is­rael is be­gin­ning to fear it may be.

“Ne­tanyahu can’t say no to Trump,” opined one set­tler leader last week. Like his col­leagues, he fears that it will be much more dif­fi­cult to op­pose a diplo­matic ini­tia­tive fronted by the “friendly” Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion than it was against the “hos­tile” Barack Obama.

Their even deeper fear is that Mr Ne­tanyahu him­self may not be in­ter­ested in go­ing against his new friend in the Oval Of­fice. “Bibi out­foxed us” said one right-wing min­is­ter who was ini­tially ex­cited at the prospect of a new pro-set­tle­ment ad­min­is­tra- tion and is now con­cerned the prime min­is­ter, to­gether with the pres­i­dent, could be pur­su­ing a new path to­wards his own vi­sion of the twostate so­lu­tion.

Cer­tainly, with an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has set it­self the goal of fight­ing anti-Is­rael bias in the United Na­tions, trans­form­ing new US Am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley into the big­gest star-turn at Aipac, Mr Ne­tanyahu feels more com­fort­able em­bark­ing on an­other peace ini­tia­tive.

It can be as­sumed also that he has re­ceived quiet as­sur­ances that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will back him on his se­cu­rity de­mands within the frame­work of any peace plan. And, of course, that he has a firm ally in Wash­ing­ton for form­ing an anti-Iran coali­tion in the Mid­dle East.

Chances are, this is all just empty Aipac talk. Af­ter all, Mr Ne­tanyahu has al­ways pre­ferred to talk about peace while play­ing for time, and so far strate­gic planning has not proven the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s forte. But that has not done noth­ing to al­lay the set­tlers’ fears.

PHOTO: AP

US en­voy to UN Nikki Ha­ley, the “star per­former” at this year’s con­fer­ence

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