For the first time in AIPAC’s history, the lobby group has invited a senior leader of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of municipal councils of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to speak at its annual convention in Washington, D.C. this month.
According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, AIPAC invited Oded Ravevi, Mayor of the illegal Efrat settlement and the Yesha Council’s foreign envoy, to take part in a panel discussion on “the future of Judea and Samaria.”
“AIPAC has finally realized that they cannot ignore half-a-million people living in Judea and Samaria, who are becoming more and more attractive to the audience of AIPAC,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Revivi as saying.
AIPAC has traditionally refrained from establishing, or publicizing, official ties with the settlement movement, in efforts to maintain its image as an organization “committed to the two-state solution.”
Ravevi’s invitation to speak at AIPAC is largely being regarded as an official “warming of ties” between the lobby and the settler movement — a relationship that has long existed under wraps.
For years the Yesha Council has hosted several US delegations and AIPAC-led congressional trips in the occupied West Bank over the past few years, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“In many instances, the guests, among them members of Congress, met with Revivi, who garnered praise for his appearances and became a sought-after speaker,” Israel Hayom said of the trips hosted by the Yesha Council.
“He [Ravevi] believes that the success of some of the AIPAC delegations that visited Judea and Samaria helped sway the US group to bring him to Washington,” The Jerusalem Post said.
In response to criticisms following Ravevi’s invitation, AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whitman told the Times of Israel that the settler leader’s presence at the conference did not “mark a shift in their longstanding policy,” and that they remained committed to a two-state solution.
“At every policy conference, we have scores of speakers from across the political spectrum — including those with diverse views on settlements — and this year is no different,” Marshall told the Times of Israel, adding “we do not take a position on settlements.”
But in an interview with the Times of Israel, Ravevi reportedly casted doubt on AIPAC’s alleged support of the two-state solution, telling reporters that “when you get into discussions with them [AIPAC], they’re not that clear.”
As a major player in the settler movement in Israel, Mayor Revivi has been a feature of Israeli media for years, specifically for his preachings of “peace” with his Palestinian “neighbors,” and last year, when he invited Palestinians to Efrat for Sukkot celebrations.
The settlement of Efrat is situated south of Bethlehem, in the southern occupied West Bank, and is one of the larger settlements in the Gush Etzion Bloc. It is home to some 10,000 affluent Israeli settlers, including many Americans.
Efrat was built on the lands of several surrounding Palestinian villages, and is one of the more strategically located settlements in the southern West Bank that form a ring around the city of Bethlehem.
Despite his public calls for “peace” and “dialogue,”and comments supporting the dismantlement of the Separation Wall, Revivi is nevertheless living in the Palestinian territory illegally, and is a proponent of the settlements, which are regarded as a major obstacle to peace in the region.
In their report about Revivi’s upcoming debut at AIPAC, The Times of Israel said he was “staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood.”
Last year, with his backing, the Efrat local council established a new illegal outpost on its outskirts in response to the killing of an American-Israeli settler. The outpost was established without any permits or approval from the Civil Administration.
Haaretz reported at the time that the head of the Efrat council posted a video clip on Facebook, in which one of the settlers responsible for erecting the outpost can be heard saying: “Less than 24 hours after the murder of our friend Ari Fuld, the Efrat local council is offering a suitable Zionist response and building a new point of settlement in the Land of Israel – Givat Eitam – a strategic hill that connects the center of Gush Etzion to the eastern part.”