Donald Trump, staking out a pro-Israel position that had nary a mention of neutrality, earned the most enthusiastic response of any speaker at AIPAC’s annual conference.
The real estate billionaire and Republican front-runner in the presidential primaries, speaking Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, did not explicitly renounce positions that have created unease among pro-Israel activists, including insisting on neutrality in brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace, and not committing to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
However the speech at AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. – a prepared address, which is rarity for Trump – pronouncedly reversed both positions, arguing that the Palestinians must accept as a given the closeness of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely unbreakable,” he said. “They must come to the table willing to accept that Israel is a Jewish state and it will exist forever as a Jewish state.”
He also reversed his earlier reluctance to commit to recognizing all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” he said.
Trump opponents who had said they would protest the speech because of his broadsides against minorities and his sanctioning of political violence were not visible when he spoke. Instead, there were repeated standing ovations.
Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of pro-Israel orthodoxy appeared to resonate with the AIPAC activists in the Verizon Center arena, and the loud applause was not the only indication. Immediately following Trump’s speech, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, his closest rival in the presidential race, scored Trump in his own prepared remarks for pledging neutrality on Israel, and for not promising to “shred” the Iran deal. Both gibes fell flat.
Trump delivered broadsides against his likely rival in the general election, Hillary Clinton, calling her a “total disaster” and blaming her for last year’s Iran nuclear deal.
The line earned laughter and applause, although Clinton’s speech, earlier in the day, was well received.
Trump’s biggest applause line was when he began a sentence, “President Obama, in his final year – yay!”
AIPAC led opposition last year to the Iran nuclear deal, and clashed repeatedly with President Barack Obama’s administration in the lobby’s unsuccessful bid to get Congress to nix the deal last year.
In her speech, Clinton earned applause for decrying Trump’s insults during his campaign against Mexicans, Muslims and others.
Trump, in his AIPAC speech, notably avoided some of the generalizations he has used to describe ethnic and religious groups.