Five things to watch as AIPAC kicks off

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Leaders from around Washington are set to gather at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference starting Sunday amid new questions over the U.S. push for Mideast peace.

AIPAC, the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, regularly attracts a number of high-profile American and Israeli political figures to its multiday summit, which is aimed at strengthening U.S.-Israeli relations.

This year’s event includes appearances by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Pence and a host of congressional leaders, and follows President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But the AIPAC gathering also comes as Trump and Netanyahu both face growing legal investigations in their respective countries, while the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — his point person on a Mideast peace deal — finds himself in a political firestorm. {mosads}

Here are five things to watch at the conference kicks off Sunday:

Trump officials set for hero’s welcome over Jerusalem decision

Trump’s move in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announce plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy to the city upended decades of American policy and sent shockwaves through the international community.

But the decision was widely hailed by conservatives and hard-liners in both the U.S. and Israel, who cast the move as a recognition of reality, rather than a political play.

When Trump administration officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Pence and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman take the stage at AIPAC in the coming days, they are sure to receive praise for the move.

Haley, in particular, has been an ardent defender of Trump’s decision, especially in the face of a United Nations General Assembly vote to disavow the move. The State Department also announced last month that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem will open in May to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Taken together, those efforts are likely to receive a warm reception at AIPAC.

The event has not always drawn top U.S. and Israeli political figures. Netanyahu skipped the AIPAC conference last year, opting instead to appear via satellite to those gathered, while Trump dispatched Pence to speak to the group.

Trump appeared at the conference in 2016 and delivered a speech that prompted a rebuke from the pro-Israel lobbying group. An AIPAC official decried “ad hominem attacks” after Trump, then the Republican presidential front-runner, took multiple shots at then-President Obama, including saying he “may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.”

Kushner faces political firestorm amid Mideast peace efforts

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser was dealt a blow last week when his top-secret security clearance was downgraded after months-long delays in his background check.

That was followed by the revelation in a Washington Post report that officials in at least four countries, including Israel, have discussed ways to use Kushner’s myriad business dealings and lack of foreign policy experience to manipulate him.

Those revelations add to the complications surrounding Kushner’s work on a plan for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, a responsibility he was handed shortly after Trump entered the White House last year.

The State Department has said that it fully expects Kushner to continue work on the effort. 

Still, any potential peace plan is subject to external turmoil. Palestinian leaders rebuked Washington’s role in brokering a deal after Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, and the recommendation of corruption charges against Netanyahu have left the Israeli leader’s political future uncertain.

Netanyahu arrives stateside amid corruption allegations back home

Netanyahu has been a heavyweight in Israeli politics for years. But a recommendation by Israeli police last month that he be charged with fraud, bribery and breach of public trust has cast a pall over his political future.

The accusations touch on Netanyahu’s alleged role in two separate cases: one in which he and his wife are accused of taking lavish gifts in exchange for political favors, and another in which he is suspected of backroom dealings to ensure more favorable coverage in an Israeli newspaper.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases. 

When Netanyahu travels to Washington this week, he will almost certainly look to rally his supporters in the U.S. and keep the focus away from the allegations he faces back home. The visit, which includes a scheduled meeting with Trump at the White House on Monday, also gives him an opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship with a longtime political ally.

White House spokesman Raj Shah declined to comment during a press briefing last month on whether Trump believes Netanyahu is innocent or if the bribery charges could affect the peace process, calling it “an internal Israeli matter.” 

U.S., Israeli officials likely to call for swift action on Iran

Iran has been a perennial thorn in the side for both Netanyahu and the Trump administration, making it a prime topic for discussion at AIPAC. 

The Trump administration took its most aggressive step toward undoing the Obama-era deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in October, when Trump declined to certify Tehran’s compliance with the terms of the framework. 

And tensions between Israel and Iran ratcheted up last month after a cross-border confrontation between Israeli, Iranian and Syrian military forces that led to an Israeli fighter jet being shot down.

U.S. officials, especially Haley and Pence, are likely to use their appearances at AIPAC to underscore the Trump administration’s commitment to defending Israel in the face of expanding Iranian influence in the Middle East and to push for a new nuclear deal that Trump says is needed to patch holes in the current framework.

Poland’s Holocaust speech law could come under fire

The U.S. and Israel have been united in their condemnation of a recently passed law in Poland making it a crime to accuse the Polish nation of atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, arguing that the measure curbs free speech and attempts to whitewash history.

While Poland’s president has signed that measure into law, officials in Warsaw have said that no charges will be brought under the law until the country’s constitutional court rules on it.

Still, the measure has drawn the ire of the U.S. and Israel, putting Polish officials in the position of doing damage control. For example, Poland sent a delegation to Jerusalem this week to meet with Israeli officials and historians in an effort to assuage concerns in the country.

At the same time, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Marek Magierowski traveled to Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials, Jewish groups and lawmakers, including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), both of whom are slated to speak at AIPAC.

Tags American Israel Public Affairs Committee American Israel Public Affairs Committee Ben Cardin Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump Donald Trump Israel–United States relations Jared Kushner Jared Kushner Jerusalem Nikki Haley Steny Hoyer

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