The annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – the largest US pro-Israel lobbying group – began on Monday. Attendees are discussing measures to further expand US-Israel ties, but neither country's leader is attending.

US House speaker Paul Ryan speaking at AIPAC, Monday, March 27 2017.
US House speaker Paul Ryan speaking at AIPAC, Monday, March 27 2017.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference began on Monday in Washington, DC. But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not attending. Nor is US President Donald Trump.

As is customary, speakers at the annual meeting of the largest US pro-Israel lobbying group pledged more support for Israel.

US House Speaker Paul Ryan called the relationship with Israel "sacrosanct." US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told participants that "the days of Israel bashing are over."

Netanyahu addressed the conference via video link from Jerusalem. He focused on Iran and what he called "militant Islam."

Netanyahu also praised Trump, whose campaign rhetoric suggested an easier relationship than the Israeli leader had with Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Many Israelis had expected Trump, because of his pro-Israel campaign rhetoric, to give a green light for settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. But Trump urged Netanyahu last month to "hold back on settlements for a little bit."

Netanyahu avoided any reference to settlements on Monday.

Most countries consider Israeli settlements, built on land captured in a 1967 war, to be illegal.

There is skepticism in the United States and Middle East over the chances for restarting Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

Trump has expressed ambivalence about a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict — the mainstay of US policy for the past two decades — but he recently invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit.

Netanyahu's coalition is grappling with divisions that have sparked speculation that he could seek early elections.

Some 18,000 people including students and pro-Israel policymakers are attending the three-day conference.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies