Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren opened AIPAC's 2013 Policy Conference on Sunday, telling delegates that the Palestinians must follow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lead and take risks for peace.
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Oren and former U.S. diplomats Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams were the first to speak at the opening plenary session of the three-day American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center on Sunday. More than 13,000 delegates are participating in the conference, dedicated to expressing U.S. support for Israel and expounding policy directions and goals.
Oren told the forum that Israel was looking forward to President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel, scheduled for the end of March, and to the possibility of renewing the peace process with the Palestinians.
The ambassador said that Netanyahu has taken “consistent risks for peace,” including his speech at Bar Ilan where he recognized the principle of "two states for two nations," and his commitment to freeze settlements. The time has come for the Palestinians to take risks as well, Oren told the delegates.
Oren added, however, that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went forward with his Fatah party's reconciliation with the Hamas in Gaza, it would be a “game ender” for the peace process.
On Iran, Oren said unequivocally that “diplomacy hasn’t worked and sanctions haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program.” Abrams opined that the latest proposals from the P5+1 negotiators showed a weakening of the West’s resolve, but to no avail. “We seem to be negotiating with ourselves,” he said.
Regarding U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition, Ross and Abrams told the audience that the Obama administration has funneled $360 million for humanitarian aid to Syria through the Assad regime - and is only now beginning to transfer the funds through the Syrian rebels.
Ross also said that the U.S. should start to deliver “lethal assistance” to the Syrian rebels, in order to help tip the balance of forces with the Syrian regime and to hasten Assad’s removal from power.
Also referring to Obama's planned visit to Israel, Ross said the president would seek to “make a connection with the Israeli public.” Abrams, in what may turn into a catchphrase of the presidential visit, said that Obama needs to convince Israelis that he has undergone a “kishke transplant" - that is, that he has had a change of heart.
In another quirk, Ambassador Oren called on AIPAC delegates to take their next vacation in Israel, but for some reason he said, “you don’t visas and you don’t need passports to come," which will come as news to the State Department as well as to Israel’s border authorities.