Going Their Ways

That squeak audible over Washington this week was the sound of the pro-Israel lobby turning on a dime.

Stung by criticism by some Labor leaders of a longstanding pro-Likud tilt, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), began a quick readjustment at this week’s annual policy conference in Washington.

“What you’re hearing is an organization adapting to a new environment,” said Gary Polland, who objected to the softening of some traditional AIPAC positions.

The shift included removal of traditional language in the group’s annual “Action Agenda” opposing creation of a Palestinian state.

Instead, following the lead of incoming Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the group now officially supports “a political solution in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians that would permit the exercise of Palestinian self-government while excluding those powers that endanger the security of Israel. “

AIPAC, while reaffirming its insistence that the administration move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, quietly instructed delegates who blanketed Capitol Hill on Tuesday not to lobby for proposed legislation designed to force the administration’s hand, saying the time is not ripe for a confrontation over the embassy.

Several weeks ago, some pro-peace process activists charged that AIPAC was encouraging Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to introduce such a resolution.

The overall tone of the conference was more sedate than in recent years, with less PLO bashing and fewer criticisms of the Clinton administration–although Sen. Sam Brownback, one of the Monday night keynoters, got in a few partisan licks on the embassy issue.

“It’s a transitional time,” said a member of AIPAC’s executive committee. “We’re doing what we always do– supporting the duly elected government in Israel.