Late last night — the program scheduled for 7 p.m. began at 8:30 due to problems with getting 10,000 registered delegates through security — the AIPAC attendees finally heard the long awaited speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But before he spoke, there were preliminary statements by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker John Boehner.
Reid spoke with ardor, passion, and strength making clear his profound commitment to the security and strength of Israel. His comments made me reflect on the importance of support for Israel in the Congress being bipartisan. While I may personally think, as I indicated earlier, that the Republicans are a better bet for the executive branch being supportive of Israel, an American policy based on protecting our national security and our major ally in the world has to have the support of both parties to succeed.
While I personally am opposed to Reid’s domestic policies, I applaud and support his passionate defense of Israel. (You can read his entire speech here.) Reid’s speech came in the context of the president’s comments days earlier to Benjamin Netanyahu, in which President Obama made clear that he was tilting towards an anti-Israeli policy. Unlike the president, Reid — representative of the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate — made it crystal clear that his party was opposed to the policy direction taken by his own president and party leader.
Reid first reiterated his party’s commitment to the Jewish state:
I stand with Israel, the Congress stands with Israel and America stands with Israel because the values that have cast our histories are one and the same. And our futures will be intertwined even more than our history has been. You know these values: Democracy, opportunity, justice. Strength, security and self-defense. Innovation. Peace. These values fasten the unbreakable bond between the United States and the State of Israel.
Referring to the flotilla episode, Reid noted:
While the whole world unfairly condemned Israel for defending herself in the flotilla incident, I didn’t stay silent. I spoke up. I worked with Democrats and Republicans alike to collect almost 90 Senators’ signatures on a letter defending Israel’s right to defend herself. We all know that if we were attacked in the same way, off our shores, the United States would have done nothing different.
And then, without mentioning Barack Obama’s name, Reid said:
The only way to achieve the delicate balance we seek between security and peace is through the hard work of negotiation. And I believe the parties that should lead those negotiations must be the parties at the center of this conflict — and no one else. The place where negotiating will happen must be the negotiating table — and nowhere else.
Those negotiations will not happen — and their terms will not be set — through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else. (my emphasis)
With that last powerful statement, to which the audience rose to its feet as one and gave Sen. Reid an ovation — the Democratic majority leader reprimanded his own president in a speech to Israel’s most fervent American supporters.
Next, Reid addressed the issue of Hamas, with which the Palestinian Authority has just signed an agreement to allow the terrorist group to join the West Bank government:
That means the Palestinians cannot bring to the negotiating table a terrorist organization that rejects Israel’s right to exist. Nowhere else in the world, at no other time, is one party expected to compromise with a partner who denies its very existence. A peace process can happen only when both sides seek peace. And two partners cannot build a bridge when one party refuses even to admit there is something on the other side of the span.
Hamas is a threat not only to Israel, it is a threat to the creation of a Palestinian state, a threat to the legitimacy of a new state and a threat to stability in the region. … [Israel] cannot be asked to agree to confines that would compromise its own security.
Moreover, Reid told the audience that he was opposed to the United States giving the PA funding as long as it included Hamas as a governing partner:
I’ll say this as clearly as I can: the United States of America will not give money to terrorists bent on the destruction of the State of Israel. If the Palestinian government insists on including Hamas, the United States will continue to insist that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, that it renounce violence, and that it honor the commitments made by prior Palestinian Authority governments.
Since Hamas of course will not do anything like this, Reid is in essence saying he knows full well that the peace process will not go on — despite the president’s invocation that it must. He concluded his powerful speech with these words:
America’s commitment to Israel is incorruptible. It is non-negotiable. And we will never leave her side.