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WASHINGTON - In exactly a month's time, the annual AIPAC Policy Conference will take place in the American capital. The keynote speakers will be U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

AIPAC officials would like to see the event as an unreserved show of support for the lobby and an indication that the crisis over the organization is now over. To this end, AIPAC had to institute its own kind of "disengagement plan" this week. AIPAC realized that it was too heavy a burden to keep policy director Steve Rosen and Iran expert Keith Weissman on its staff. By the time Rice steps onto the podium, they hope, AIPAC will have distanced itself from the affair.

The two senior officials directly concerned with the Franklin affair - Rosen and Weissman - will have to pay the price by facing legal charges, possibly even indictments, analysts in Washington said yesterday, while the organization will emerge almost unscathed. But the price will be a heavy one. Rosen is not merely another AIPAC official; in the eyes of many, he is AIPAC itself. He joined the lobby after the struggle over the sale of AWACS surveillance equipment to Saudi Arabia, a struggle that AIPAC lost but that put it on the map at Capitol Hill.

Rosen pushed not only for lobbying with Congressmen but also directly with the executive branch. His executive lobbying proved a success and Rosen was seen coming and going at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, advocating Israel's case.

While very little is being said by the sides, it is clear that Rosen and AIPAC are not parting as friends. The fact that the announcement about Rosen and Weissman was portrayed differently by each side indicates that they are not leaving of their own free will. One surmise is that AIPAC insisted on presenting their departure as a dismissal in order to convey the message that it takes resolute action against officials who do not abide by regulations and that the lobby itself is not a problematic body.

The AIPAC-Franklin affair has now reached a decisive point. As an organization, AIPAC hopes it has cut out the cancer and can now recover and rebuild its connections that were prejudiced. For the two senior officials, the legal process is just beginning. For the federal prosecutor, Attorney Paul McNulty, the time is approaching when the veil of secrecy over the affair must be lifted and its full scope made public.

Was this a case of an Israeli mole in the Pentagon, a lobby that overstepped its authority, or a one-time act in which the lobby's officials transferred forbidden information to Israeli representatives?