Tough Questions Surround Clinton's AIPAC Speech

Is the U.S. divided over Israel?

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After a turbulent week for U.S.-Israel relations, in which Vice President Joe Biden's Israel trip was tarnished by surprise settlement announcements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed AIPAC, the largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. The Obama administration's sharp rebuke of Israel's settlement growth has been a point of tension internationally and domestically. Clinton told AIPAC that the relationship with Israel is "rock solid," but that the plan for new settlements "undermines America's unique ability to play a role -- an essential role, I might add -- in the peace process." Here's what commentators are saying:

  • Do Jewish Lobbies Represent All Jews?  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg says "the problem with the AIPAC conference" is that it relies so heavily on conservatives. However, "Most American Jews voted for Obama; most American Jews are liberal." So AIPAC does not represent the majority of American Jews. "AIPAC is interested mainly in presenting an oversimplified vision of the Middle East to its members."
  • U.S.-Israel Partnership No Longer Sacrosanct  Foreign Policy's Stephen Walt writes in the Washington Post, "Speakers at the AIPAC conference will undoubtedly defend the special relationship and warn Washington against putting pressure on Israel. But this short-sighted approach would be a disaster for all sides." For Israel to rebuke U.S. demands on settlements would be to "jeopardize its standing with its most important partner."
  • Does Israel Understand U.S. Divisions?  The New Yorker's David Remnick worries, "The professionals in Washington and Jerusalem share sufficient diplomatic agility to paper over this latest unpleasantness, but the memory of the trivial-seeming aspects of the dispute—the affronts, the lacerating phone calls—obscures a more unsettling pattern: a deep Israeli misreading of the President and an ignorance of the diversity of opinion among American Jews and in the United States in general." But this is two-sided: "In fairness, many Americans see Israeli politics in atavistic terms, too."
  • Clinton Offered Ceasefire to Israel  The Daily Beast's Ben Sarlin reads the speech as an attempt to calm tensions, but only if Netanyahu meets her halfway. "Clinton’s speech was warm but firm—America and Israel are clear allies, but the Obama administration will not back down from its commitment to restarting the peace process. It’s up to Netanyahu in his speech Monday night and Tuesday in his meeting with Obama, to decide whether to walk back the current tensions with a symbolic or substantive gesture on the settlement front, or if the issue is worth extending the current spat further."
  • Could U.S. Politics Topple Alliance?  In an NPR chat, the Washington Insitute's Robert Satloff said, "I think the idea that the Israelis somehow have to meet an American test to show their commitment to peace is quite odd and strange in credulity." New America Foundation's Steve Clemons retorted, "The whole notion that there's no space or no light between the U.S. and Israeli positions is a ridiculous formulation because we're both sovereign governments with interests that often converge and some interests that diverge, and we're going to have to occasionally wrestle over those."

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