AIPAC Aims To Appeal To Progressives As Conference Opens

Originally published on March 6, 2018 8:21 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a vital group of supporters, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, which is holding its conference in Washington. Netanyahu leads a nation that enjoys bipartisan support in the U.S. But his relations were so frosty with President Obama and so warm with President Trump that the new head of AIPAC, Mort Fridman, worries about liberals being pushed away.

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MORT FRIDMAN: The progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling and critical as the conservative one.

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FRIDMAN: But there are very real forces trying to pull you out of this hall and out of this movement.

INSKEEP: That is the start of our discussion with Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration.

Welcome back to the program.

MARTIN INDYK: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Is there a widening partisan divide on Israel?

INDYK: There is when it comes to sympathy - who do you sympathize with between the Israelis and Palestinians on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I think that support for Israel broadly, as stated or Israel as a strategic asset, remains very strong. Like, two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans support that proposition.

But when it comes to being asked about - who do you sympathize with more between the Israelis and the Palestinians? - there has been a major drop-off in support amongst Democrats and independents, who represent three-quarters of the electorate, whereas there has been a very strong increase in support on the Republican side over the years so that there is now, between Democrats and Republicans, on that issue of who you sympathize with more, something like a 50-point spread - 79-27, 79 for the Republicans and 27 for the Democrats.

INSKEEP: I guess it's interesting then...

INDYK: And I think that's what's reflected.

INSKEEP: I guess it's interesting, then, if you think about Israelis and Palestinians. One major divide is over Israeli settlements. And that is a subject where even President Trump, who has been so supportive of Benjamin Netanyahu - President Trump has criticized Israeli settlement moves in recent months. Hasn't he?

INDYK: Yes. And I think that that is the thing that does greatest damage to Israel's support in the United States, just as terrorism and incitement does the greatest damage to the Palestinian support in the United States.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, President Trump of course is - says he's moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. You wrote an article a little over a year ago, Ambassador, saying that this was a terrible idea but that it could work out OK, for the better if it was done a certain way. So is President Trump doing it the right way?

INDYK: No. He's doing it completely the wrong way because to deny the Palestinians even aspirations to have their capital in Israel. And he's made no reference to Palestinian - excuse me - in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: Right.

INDYK: He has made no indication of any sympathy towards Palestinian aspirations to have their capital in East Jerusalem, which is predominately Arab. That is something, which has so offended the Palestinians that it's driven them out of even considering talking to the United States about playing a role in the peace process. And he keeps on saying, as he did yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting in the Oval Office, that I've taken Jerusalem off the table. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

INSKEEP: Well...

INDYK: He hasn't...

INSKEEP: ...He's said...

INDYK: ...Resolved anything in Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: ...This is - one of the major divides is who gets to put their capital in Jerusalem. He says, I've solved that. Has he not?

INDYK: Well, now, all he's done is to - for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But there's a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And he hasn't resolved any of the issues of Jerusalem, whether it's the issue of the holy sites or the issue of borders within Jerusalem or who controls the territory. None of those things have been solved by his decision. Yet he blandly says, we've taken it off the table, which signals to the Palestinians that they have no claims in Jerusalem at all, and that is totally unacceptable to them.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much. Pleasure talking with you.

INDYK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Martin Indyk is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and has also served as U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.