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Pro-Israel lobby wages public campaign on U.S.-Israel alliance

2010-03-22 11:05 BJT

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Amid the tension of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the most influential U.S. bipartisan pro-Israel lobby on Sunday kicked off its annual policy conference, in the latest effort to urge the Obama administration to reaffirm the alliance with the Jewish state.

Reaffirming the alliance, supporting Israel's security and backing sanctions on Iran are expected to be stressed at the conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has worked tirelessly for decades on ensuring strong U.S. support to Israel.

Some 7,500 people are gathering in Washington for the three-day conference, which the organizers say is the largest policy conference in AIPAC history.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former British Primer Minister and the Quartet special envoy Tony Blair, influential U.S. Congress members are expected to address the conference.

The event is coming when the U.S.-Israel relationship was troubled by the Netanyahu government's tough stance on the Jewish settlement activities in the Palestinian-occupied West Bank.

The Obama administration was angry over the Israeli government's approval of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem on March 9 when Vice President Joe Biden was pushing both Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.

Both Biden and Clinton rarely have issued condemnation of Israel for the move, which was described by Clinton as "a deeply negative signal" about Israel's approach to relations with Washington.

The Obama administration has been exerting pressure on the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to resume the talks in order that the two sides could reach a permanent peace agreement that leads to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within two years.

The talks were stalled in December 2008 when Israel launched a massive military campaign against the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

PNA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas insisted the talks would not be resumed until the Israeli government totally freezes the Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, while the Israeli side vowed to ensure the "natural growth" of the Jewish settlements.

At least 450,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

After Israel's announcement to build more homes in East Jerusalem, the PNA decided to suspend the indirect talks with Israel, which was brokered by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell following tough shuttle mediation between Israel and the Palestinians.

As an effort to revive the indirect talks, Mitchell will leave for Israel and the West Bank to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Abbas.

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama convinced the Israelis that the U.S.-Israel relations would not be undermined by their disagreement over Jewish settlement activities.

"Israel's one of our closest allies, and we and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away," Obama said, adding there was "no crisis" in the U.S.-Israel relations and the United States saw no change in its commitment to Israel.

Editor: Jin Lin | Source: Xinhua