Netanyahu refuses to endorse 2-state Illusion, while AIPAC lobbies for it

(Jerusalem Post) While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is refusing to explicitly endorse a two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian conflict, participants at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference will this week be urging their elected representatives to press President Barack Obama for precisely that.

The pro-Israel advocacy group's annual conference culminates each year with a mass lobbying effort, in which the thousands of participants from across the United States spread out across Capitol Hill for meetings with their respective members of Congress and encourage them to endorse policies and positions that AIPAC believes will advance the American-Israeli interest.

In this year's lobbying effort, to take place on Tuesday, the AIPAC thousands will be asking their congressmen to sign on to a letter addressed to Obama that explicitly posits the need for a "viable Palestinian state."

It is expected that the overwhelming majority of the congressmen will sign it.

Netanyahu has been aware of the letter's content for some time, according to his senior adviser, Ron Dermer.

Dermer said that despite the letter's language, the important issue was that of underlying policy.

"On the substance, I don't think there's a difference in our position and the position of AIPAC," he said.

It is understood that the letter is being advanced despite its discrepancy with the prime minister's stated positions, because its content reflects both longstanding American policy and longstanding AIPAC positions.

The idea is that the letter would form a bridge between US and Israeli views on the diplomatic process at a time when neither country is looking to provoke arguments despite having different perspectives.

Furthermore, it is being noted here that Netanyahu has made plain that his government will honor previous agreements, which include the road map with its specific framework for a path to Palestinian statehood.

It is not known whether Netanyahu will publicly endorse a two-state solution when he meets here on May 18 with Obama, but it is widely assumed that, privately at least, he will make plain to Obama his government's commitment to previous accords.

Several versions of the letter are included in the kits being given out to participants in this week's AIPAC conference.

One version, bearing a "United States Senate" letterhead, addressed to Obama, and left open for signature, states: "We must also continue to insist on the absolute Palestinian commitment to ending terrorist violence and to building the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side, in peace with the Jewish state of Israel."

This version also gives explicit support for programs such as the US-supervised training of Palestinian Authority security forces.

"The more capable and responsible Palestinian forces become, the more they demonstrate the ability to govern and to maintain security, the easier it will be for [the Palestinians] to reach an accord with Israel," it states.

"We encourage you to continue programs similar to the promising security assistance and training programs led by Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, and hope that you will look for other ways to improve Palestinian security and civilian infrastructure."

A second, similar version, also addressed to Obama and signed by staunchly pro-Israel Majority Leader Stony Hoyer and Republican Whip Eric Cantor, sets out a series of "basic principles" that, if adhered to, offer "the best way to achieve future success between Israelis and Palestinians."

Among the principles cited is the requirement for the two parties to directly negotiate the details of any agreement, the imperative for the US government to serve as "both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel," and the need for Arab states to move toward normal ties with Israel and to support "moderate Palestinians."

The clause that discusses statehood demands "an absolute Palestinian commitment to end violence, terror, and incitement and to build the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with the Jewish state of Israel inside secure borders."

It continues: "Once terrorists are no longer in control of Gaza and as responsible Palestinian forces become more capable of demonstrating the ability to govern and to maintain security, an accord with Israel will be easier to attain."

A third version of the letter, addressed to their colleagues, is signed by Senators Christopher Dodd, Arlen Specter, Johnny Isakson and John Thune.

It states that "we must redouble our efforts to eliminate support for terrorist violence and strengthen the Palestinian institutions necessary for the creation of a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side, in peace with Israel."

Netanyahu chose not to attend this week's AIPAC conference in part because a Washington visit now would have included, as its central element, talks at the White House with Obama, and Netanyahu preferred to defer that meeting by another two weeks in order to complete his ongoing foreign policy review.

Instead, the prime minister will address the AIPAC delegates by satellite on Monday. Hoyer and Cantor are set to address the same session.

President Shimon Peres is attending the Washington conference in Netanyahu's stead, and will speak on Monday along with Vice President Joseph Biden. Peres will meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday.

Netanyahu has long indicated that his concerns about Palestinian statehood are practical, rather than ideological - arising from the fear that a fully sovereign Palestinian state might abuse its sovereignty to forge alliances, import arms and build an offensive military capability to threaten Israel.

Aides to the prime minister have also argued in recent days that it is unreasonable to demand that Israel formally endorse statehood for the Palestinian people when the Palestinian leadership is emphatically opposed to recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

The Hoyer-Cantor letter opens by acknowledging the "formidable" obstacles to peace, but endorses Obama's position "that every effort should be made to try to realize that peace at the soonest possible time."

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