WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- Once a year the Israel lobby in Washington known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee holds its annual convention where anyone who's anyone in the political world comes to render fealty, rather than homage. It has become a political rite of passage, like a medieval contract for exchanging goods and services, which was often military service in exchange for protection. Anyone who doesn't pass the litmus test can forget about becoming president of the United States, or senator or even congressman.
Maverick anti-American and anti-Israeli British Member of Parliament George Galloway said this week, just before AIPAC convened its three-day annual conference in Washington, that he "prays for the safety of Barack Obama." He also warned Arab "puppet presidents and corrupt kings" that "the ground has moved under their feet." But Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, didn't hesitate to forgo all the praise being heaped on him by the Arab media to embrace Israel and everything it stands for -- first and foremost freedom and democracy.
"I'll be speaking from my heart and as a true friend of Israel," Obama said, adding he knew he was among "good friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow and forever."
Obama struck all the right notes for several thousand Jews. He was proud to be part "of a strong, bipartisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain and I share, because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party. But part of our commitment must be speaking up when Israel's security is at risk, and I don't think any of us can be satisfied that America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure."
Obama said he will make sure Israel can defend itself against any threat -- "from Gaza to Tehran." He will also implement "a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade." He also will work "to help Israel achieve the goal of two states ... living side by side in peace and security." And for that to happen, Hamas has to be isolated until it puts an end to terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist.
The message that was broadcast all over the Arab world said, "Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct ... non-negotiable." And "there is no greater threat to Israel -- or to the peace and stability of the region -- than Iran."
At last year's AIPAC convention Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert flew over to deliver a plea not to tie President Bush's hands "on Iran." This year Olmert is teetering on the edge of collapse on corruption charges, but he didn't flinch. He said Iran's nuclear program must be stopped by "all possible means" and Tehran must be made to see "it would suffer devastating repercussions if it pursued atomic weapons."
AIPAC's foundations in the American Jewish community are solid gold. Its 100,000 members are, for the most part, wealthy American Jews. The lobby, reputedly Washington's most powerful (though this is disputed by the NRA and AARP), ensures that anything Israel wants or needs gets quick action on the Hill. And that covers anything from $3 billion a year for the next 10 years for modern weaponry to soft loans for building the $2.5 billion physical barrier between Israelis and Palestinians, and under the radar the steady expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Some 800 new dwellings in Arab East Jerusalem were on the radar and made public recently.
Israel is the largest recipient of direct economic and military U.S. aid since the creation of the Jewish state 60 years ago. It also receives its annual aid from the United States at the beginning of the fiscal year so that it can earn interest. Other foreign aid recipients get aid in quarterly installments.
Both McCain and Obama were effusive in their praise for Israel in their AIPAC speeches, and both said they would make a Palestinian settlement a foreign policy priority, namely the two-state solution Bush said he would bring about before he leaves office. Most experts say the time is long passed when such a deal was still possible. The "wall" of separation that has annexed 17 percent of the West Bank where 145 settlements exist and 240,000 Jewish settlers live, all add up to no room for a "viable and contiguous" Palestinian state, as promised by the United States.
Nor is Israel, irrespective of the government in power, about to allow Palestinian refugees the right of return, or a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Another Palestinian election probably would allow Hamas, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, to spread its influence to the West Bank and make Israel more obdurate to conceding anything beyond perhaps easing restrictions on West Bank Palestinians.
Iran is a bigger concern to Israel, as well as to a McCain or Obama administration, albeit for different reasons. A majority of Israelis, according to surveys, favor bombing and missile attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities, which they know would not destroy Iran's nuclear program but believe would retard whatever the mullah regime is planning.
Bellicose anti-Iran statements at the AIPAC convention got the biggest hand. Neocon kingpin Richard Perle made another pitch to put Iran next on the terrorist regime hit list. But three former commanders of the U.S. Central Command -- which includes the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan -- have disassociated themselves from those who advocate hostile action and now favor high-level dialogue.
Iraq's former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi told United Press International this week he favored a three-nation negotiation with Iraq and Iran -- and the United States. Unless we learn to live and work together, the Iraq War will be a war that never finished.
Arab leaders and commentators reacted with anger and disbelief at Obama's speech -- the worst thing to happen to us since the 1967 Six-Day War (in which they lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel), said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.