President Barack Obama's speech Sunday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) comes on the heels of three contentious days of U.S.-Israel diplomacy, beginning with the president's vision of peace negotiations on Thursday and continuing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's public rebuke of that vision on Friday. But was the AIPAC crowd swayed by his attempts to explain himself?
AIPAC issued an official statement following the speech expressing appreciation for Obama's assurance that the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw to the lines that existed on June 4, 1967, and was also glad the U.S. president explicitly condemned Hamas as a terrorist organization.
National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris said that in his opinion, Sunday's speech included “a very helpful explanation of the 1967 parameters that some misunderstood and some purposefully distorted. This will dramatically help the president with going forward. I was deeply gratified to see the tremendously warm reception he got throughout the speech - it was more than a polite minimum the folks here were expected to do. He got clearly genuine support throughout his address. It shows that even in this room in the heart of the pro-Israeli advocacy in the country there was a clear recognition of the fact that the status quo is not sustainable.”
There actually was one solitary “boo” in the middle of the speech, when the president tried to explain what he meant by the "1967 lines." But there was much applause too.
“President Obama is brave, sincere, but a little bit naïve”, said Victor Saban from Los Angeles. “I think Israel should stay the course and see what develops in the region and with the Palestinians. You have to stay the course until you have a real partner for peace."
Finkelman family from Houston, Texas - Sandra, a veteran political activist, and her two sons at their first AIPAC conference - thought Obama was saying what he had been expected to say.
“Israel is the only country that can lead the trend towards democracy in the Middle East,” said Seth Finkelman. “He had good points, but he should be much more in favor of Israel."
“But we must give him the respect, because the final goal is to continue improving the relationship between the countries,” explained Sandra Finkelman.
Some believed that he did just that. As one major player in the Democratic fundraising family pointed out, Obama “will have a lot of money raised because he is the President of the United States. Many people will donate, because people want to keep the place at the table. Last time we raised money, we needed to do some talking. This time it will happen also - and I believe this speech was one of the things that might help.”
Congressman Elliott Engel (D-NY), present for the speech, concluded that the president had done a better job of explaining himself on Sunday that he had three days earlier.
“It was a good speech. Much better than the one on Thursday. I thought that he stressed then the 1967 lines, instead of stressing the fact that the Palestinians were those who refused to negotiate. The U.S. didn’t sit to talk with bin Laden. Israel shouldn’t be expected to talk with Hamas. The pressure should be on the Palestinians.”
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