An Insider’s History of Five Decades of AIPAC

When Lenny Ben-David first began working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 1972, it was less than a decade old, and had a staff of about ten people and a shoestring budget. Since then, AIPAC has grown immensely, but has repeatedly had to change its tactics to keep up with a changing political climate, while its influence waxed and waned. Ben-David provides a richly detailed account of how this happened, and notes that some of the most profound challenges the organization wrestled with had little to do with attitudes toward the Jewish state:

In the 1970s, AIPAC and [its founding leader Isaiah “Si” Kenen] faced some heavyweight issues: the divisive 1972 U.S. elections, foreign-aid loans and grants to Israel, the Arab boycott, and the Yom Kippur War. Kenen didn’t have to prowl the halls of Congress to meet with elected officials and twist arms. He consulted with two handfuls of congressional titans, and they set the legislative agenda and rounded up the votes on the Hill. . . . These giants’ congressional power and their rules would dissipate in the 1970s.

Long-serving chairmen of important committees possessed the power to promote legislation or crush it and the ability to do the same to the career of a junior committee member. Once a chairman decided, that was final. Their positions were protected by their droit d’seniority—until younger members of Congress finally rebelled.

After the Vietnam War, Congress was determined to challenge presidents and their administrations on foreign policy, budget, and defense issues. But Congress had to develop its own expertise. . . . In the ruins of the seniority system, another power nexus was established with AIPAC’s expansion of the lobbying department. More offices and new members of Congress had to be contacted; more issues deliberated by Congress were on the agenda. A new aspect of AIPAC’s lobbying expanded as well—the provision of timely, accurate, well-researched, and helpful information. AIPAC met all the tasks.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: AIPAC, American Zionism, Congress, U.S.-Israel relationship

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood