Protesters Rally Outside AIPAC Conference Ahead of Obama Speech

Leftist activists call for Palestinian right of return, say U.S. must reduce the pro-Israel lobby's influence.

Leftist activists gathered outside the AIPAC conference in Washington on Sunday, calling for the Palestinian right of return and for the U.S. government to reduce AIPAC's influence.

Activists, dressed as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed AIPAC members first thing in the morning, toting signs with slogans such as "Keep Diplomacy Impotent!" and signs supporting Palestinian right of return.

AIPAC protest - Natasha Mozgovaya - 22.5.2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

One display erected on the grounds included two soldiers dressed in pink and armed with a toy gun, pushing around a pregnant Palestinian woman and dropping her to the ground.

Protesters gathered as U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his speech before AIPAC reaffirming his vision for Mideast peace based on 1967 borders amid tensions due to an Obama-Netanyahu meeting Friday which ended with a televised confrontation that showed the entire world the depth of the disagreement between the two leaders on the Palestinian question.

Senior officials in both the U.S. administration and the prime minister's delegation expressed a sense of great tension and profound mutual insult following the meeting.

While Obama, speaking to the BBC later Sunday reaffirmed his commitment to the 1967 borders as a peace-talks guideline, he warned the Palestinian against appealing to the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state, urging the future Fatah-Hamas unity cabinet to make a decision on their stance toward peace talks with Israel.

"They've got to make a decision, first of all, in what is the official position of a unified Palestinian authority about how they're dealing with Israel," Obama said, adding that "if they can't get past that barrier, it's going to be very hard for a negotiation to take place. I also believe that the notion that you can solve this problem in the United Nations is simply unrealistic."

The U.S. president said that he had already told Palestinian officials that "whatever happens in the United Nations, you are going to have to talk to the Israelis if you are going to have a state in which your people have self-determination, adding: "You are not going to be able to do an end run around the Israelis."

"And so I think that, you know, whatever efforts they mount in the United Nations will be symbolic, he said, adding that the world has "seen a lot of these sort of symbolic efforts before. They're not something that the United States is going to be particularly sympathetic towards, simply because we think it avoids the real problems with that have to be resolved between the two parties."

The U.S. president also reiterated his support of the 1967 borders functioning as a negotiations starting point, adding that "the truth is that we were stating what I think most observers of the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognize as the obvious - which is that if you're going to have any kind of peace, you're going to have two states side by side."