WASHINGTON — Before a crowd of roughly 18,000 delegates, American Israel Public Affairs Committee CEO Howard Kohr launched the opening plenary session of the group’s annual conference Sunday night by stressing the lobby’s commitment to bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship, a focus that seeks to heal the bitterness following last year’s showdown with the White House and many Congressional Democrats over the Iran nuclear deal.
Acknowledging defeat on the accord signed by Iran and six world powers in July, Kohr praised AIPAC activists who sought to prevent the deal from coming to fruition, saying they “fought the good fight.” He added that despite differences on the Iran issue, Democrats and Republicans who support Israel share a common goal of protecting the Jewish state and ensuring its long-term survival.
“While it’s easy to find opinions that divide us, we are united,” Kohr said, adding that “bipartisanship is the only way to create stable, sustainable policy.”
That bipartisanship, he said, will be imperative for the ongoing effort to “prevent a nuclear Iran and deter Iranian aggression in the Middle East,” which he said was “far from over.”
This year’s event boasts the largest attendance ever at the Policy Conference.
Kohr moved on from the Iran deal to urge those in attendance not to give up on the hope of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling on Israel supporters to believe in the possibility of an Israel “living with security alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
“We must continue to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “While it might be hard to imagine a peace agreement amid the current chaos, we cannot and will not give up.”
Yet progress on this front was unlikely to come from outside pressure or the involvement of international institutions, he maintained, but rather would only be achieved by the two sides in negotiations. AIPAC would begin asking Congress on Tuesday to express its support for “direct talks between the parties themselves,” he said.
The pro-Israel lobby would urge members of Congress to make clear that they would encourage the US to veto any Palestinian-led anti-Israel resolution that may come before the United Nations Security Council.
And the AIPAC chief called for the successful signing of a US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding on heightened security aid for Israel in the wake of the nuclear deal, despite rumors hiccups in the talks to hammer out the details of the agreement.