A strange place for AIPAC: To the left of a peace plan
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A strange place for AIPAC: To the left of a peace plan

Pro-Israel lobby hasn’t fully clarified its stance on the White House’s proposal, but could provide clues at its annual conference in March

Ron Kampeas
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, January 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration's much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, January 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration's much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Trump administration peace plan puts AIPAC in an odd place: For the first time in its history, the largest Israel lobby in the US finds itself to the left of a Middle East peace plan.

AIPAC has sustained its backing for a two-state solution, while the Trump administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have retreated from it.

US President Donald Trump’s recently released plan maintains the phrase “two states,” but Netanyahu has said he does not see the terminology as determinative of statehood. The plan explicitly counts out some trappings of statehood for the Palestinians, including an independent foreign and defense policy.

Before the plan was released, AIPAC made clear it might be supportive, but wanted more information. That looks likely to come at the lobby’s conference on March 1-3: Three of the plan’s mapping committee members will speak, including US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; Aryeh Lightstone, Friedman’s senior adviser; and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Notably, a number of Obama administration veterans who have voiced skepticism of the plan, to varying degrees, also will speak. They include Dennis Ross and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Daniel Shapiro, who is now at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. So will two officials of the Israel Policy Forum, which has lambasted the plan.

How to read the tea leaves at the AIPAC conference

So how do we know how AIPAC feels about the plan? Considering how tight-lipped the group can be, figuring that out is harder than it seems.

Here are some tips:

Don’t pay attention to applause for the plan — AIPAC’s grassroots supporters are famously to the right of its leadership and likely will be wild for its provisions entrenching Israel in the West Bank.

Instead, watch for whether panels in the plenary and the sidebars address the plan, and whether they include skeptics as well as supporters. See, too, if the moderators ask the plan’s architects probing questions about its viability.

Watch for the legislation that AIPAC asks its activists to push on the conference’s final day, when they lobby their Congress members. Does it include anything that explicitly supports the plan? (A handful of Democrats have said they see positives, which may give any AIPAC initiative the bipartisan backing that is the lobby’s sine qua non.) Or is the plan ignored? Is there any language in the talking points that explicitly refers to two states?

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