Two years ago, AIPAC’s president apologized for Donald Trump and the cheers he received at the pro-Israel lobby’s annual extravaganza. But next month when the group convenes for its annual Washington policy conference, it’s unlikely that anyone from the group’s leadership will be trying to distance their organization from the administration. The only question is whether Trump will, after more than a year of fulfilling the fondest wishes of the pro-Israel community, be distancing himself from them.
The apology delivered by AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus reflected concerns that rank-and-file activists hadn’t been mindful of the need to maintain good relations with both parties. President Obama’s policy, which aimed at creating more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, was opposed by AIPAC. Seven years of quarrels picked with the Netanyahu government, combined with Obama’s desire for a rapprochement with Iran, ensured that AIPAC conference participants were ready to cheer Trump.
Yet few in the lobby’s leadership — or anyone else — imagined Trump would be elected president. Even fewer thought he would keep his promise about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Probably no one thought that if elected he would tilt U.S. policy more toward Israel than any previous president, let alone appoint a supporter of the settlement movement like David Friedman to be U.S. ambassador to Israel.
So when AIPAC convenes next month, there will be no stinting on applause for anyone connected to the Trump administration. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has conducted herself in office as if she was the second coming of Jeanne Kirkpatrick or Daniel Patrick Moynihan on Israel-related issues, will be particularly cheered. There are no mixed feelings about an administration that has kept its word on Jerusalem, confronted the Palestinian Authority for its support of terrorism and called for renegotiating the Iran deal.
While the group will go out of its way to provide time for pro-Israel Democrats, the veneer of bipartisanship has been worn particularly thin in the last year. Many Democrats have also come to believe that “resistance” to Trump should be their political priority. Their willingness to make common cause with leftist foes of Israel — like Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour — is a growing problem. The notion that anything Trump supports must be bad has made the problem worse.
Yet the question facing AIPAC is if, after a year of unprecedented support from the administration, there is trouble brewing between the two allies.
The first problem for supporters of Israel is the predicament of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The police recommendation in favor of indictments on corruption charges for the prime minister casts a pall over those who want to celebrate the closeness between Netanyahu and Trump. The betting here is that Netanyahu will hold onto his office no matter whether his country’s attorney general indicts him or not. But after nine years in which he has dominated the conversation about the Jewish state, this cloud over his leadership adds a new element of uncertainty into the calculations of both AIPAC and the administration.
The second is even more troubling for AIPAC activists. They need to ponder whether Trump is about to throw them under the bus.
The news that Trump is pushing ahead with a Middle East peace plan is puzzling to many of the president’s pro-Israel supporters. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected further U.S. involvement in the peace process after Trump’s Jerusalem statement. His Jan. 14 speech that included anti-Semitic charges that trashed Israel’s legitimacy as a state within any borders also cast doubt on his interest in peace.
But instead of continuing to hold the PA accountable for its ongoing subsidies for terror, Trump is signaling a desire to entice the Palestinians back to the table with more, rather than less, aid. Taking a page from Obama’s book, he’s also been criticizing Israeli settlement-building and questioning Israel’s willingness to make peace.
Despite everything he’s done to please the pro-Israel community, these could be signs that Trump’s ego is leading him to believe he can broker the “ultimate deal” for Middle East peace. If so, he’s in for a rude awakening as his proposal founders on the rocks of Palestinian intransigence just as those that have come before. More importantly, it will also mean that the cheers for him at AIPAC will quickly turn to angry criticism if he reverts to the policies of past administrations.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @Jonathans_tobin.