Next week Hillary Clinton will be delivering an address to the main cog in the Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This won't be her first AIPAC speech but it is, by far, her most important.
It is not important in terms of her solidifying support in the pro-Israel community or with Jewish donors. She is, and always has been, popular with both. And, running against Donald Trump, as unpopular with the community as she is popular, she has nothing to worry about.
The bottom line is that Clinton does not have to prove anything to AIPAC. Its constituency is solidly in her corner.
And that is why the AIPAC speech provides her with a real opportunity.
First, let me say that I support Clinton and have since the campaign began. I do not consider her inflexibly hawkish on Middle East issues. In fact, I believe that as president she will go farther than President Obama has in opposing the positions of the Israeli government when they conflict with our own interests (as he demonstrated when he beat AIPAC and the Netanyahu government on the Iran nuclear deal.) Her very popularity in the community, and with AIPAC and in Israel itself, gives her latitude President Obama did not have,
Clinton's Middle East problem lies not with the lobby camp but with those who consider her a neocon, firmly in Prime Minister Netanyahu's pocket. The people who feel that way tend to be young people (including young Jews) and people of all ages who support Bernie Sanders.
In fact, I constantly face criticism from those who ask "how can you support a pro-Netanyahu hawk like Hillary Clinton?" Some go so far as to say they won't vote for her in November, which would be a terrible mistake but nontheless that is how strongly many feel. (After all, we are all still angry about her Iraq war vote).
That is why she needs to use the AIPAC speech not to nail down her AIPAC support but to nail down support among progressives. A strong speech to AIPAC can do that.
That speech would include empathy for Israel and her support for a safe and secure Jewish state. But it would segue from there to a promise to pursue a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that would guarantee the security of both peoples. It would also include a pledge to help facilitate negotiations not as, what former negotiator Aaron Miller called "Israel's lawyer" but as an honest broker. It would include condemnation of both terrorism and the occupation. It would empathize with Palestinians and Israelis both. While stating her determination that Iran observe fully the terms of the nuclear deal, it will avoid the threatening rhetoric she has employed in the past.
In short, she should deliver a peace speech, one directed not at the audience in the hall but the audience outside of it--particularly younger Democrats and Sanders voters. There is a new reality out there that Clinton needs to address. The Democratic base, the base she needs to energize in November, does not share the "Israel, rght or wrong" approach of previous generations. It is not anti-Israel but it does not reflexively support it either.
Hillary can send the base a message that she is not the hawk and neocon that many think she is. Or she can confirm their view by telling the most powerful foreign policy special interest what they want to hear and pay the price for it with everyone else.
As a Clinton supporter, I hope she does the right thing. She knows what that is. I believe she always has.
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