AIPAC Policy Conference Adapts to the World of Trump
JNS.org – In recent years, AIPAC’s policy conferences have centered on hot-button issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, tension between the Obama administration and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, and the surprising rise of candidate, and now president, Donald Trump.
The 2017 conference, however, focused on adjusting to new realities. The Iran deal and a Trump presidency have become facts of life, albeit highly contested ones — and the Obama era has come and gone.
‘Meeting of the minds’
Although the AIPAC conference sought to foster an environment of bipartisanship and respect of others’ views (the conference’s tagline was “Many Voices, One Mission”) Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer did not hold back in criticizing Barack Obama, and praising Trump.
“For the first time in many years, perhaps even many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments,” Dermer said at the conference’s opening session on Sunday.
Dermer described February’s White House meeting between Netanyahu and Trump as a “meeting of the minds,” while praising the Trump administration for “finally bringing some moral clarity” to the United Nations.
‘Call our enemies by their name’
Trump’s presence at last year’s AIPAC conference prompted protests before he uttered a word, and his eventual speech drew condemnation from AIPAC after he attacked President Obama. In 2017, Trump’s top representative at the conference, Vice President Mike Pence, did not elicit similar controversy.
Pence told the conference’s 18,000 attendees on Sunday that under Trump, “If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel.” He then explained that the Trump administration stands with Israel because “her cause is our cause, her values are our values and her fight is our fight.”
Pence told those in attendance that Trump is “giving serious consideration” to moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, is committed to finding an “equitable and just solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and “will call our enemies by their name” — referring to radical Islamic terrorists.
The vice president also vowed that the administration would “hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source” and “stand strong in the face of the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Iran. “This administration has put Iran on notice . … Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” he added.
Advice for Trump
During a conference breakout session featuring former US officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, Michael Singh — the managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and George W. Bush’s senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council — had three pieces of advice for Trump: counter Iran; rebuild America’s relationships with allies like Israel, Egypt and Jordan; and pay attention to political and economic reform in the region.
At the same session, Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said that Trump needs to define his policies on Syria, Iraq and Iran. Shapiro also warned that Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid could damage relations with the Arab world, and promote instability in countries like Egypt and Jordan.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also served as a special envoy to the Middle East Quartet, said that a better future for the Middle East means setting priorities not just based on the regional players’ specific interests, but also on broader human values. He also warned that Iran was the major source of regional instability, saying “[if] you had a benign regime in Iran, all of the problems in the Middle East would be easier to resolve.”