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AIPAC policy conference begins

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be giving their heavily anticipated speeches until Monday, but the 2010 AIPAC policy conference has begun, and the presentation has some new bells and whistles this year — at least for the first session. The opening panel discussion — featuring former Tzvipi Livni adviser Tal Becker and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) — also includes a CNN-style "correspondent" introducing YouTube videos and reading e-mails with questions for the panelists. Instead of a big dais at the front of the room, the speakers are on a small stage close to the delegates in the front of the room — while the AIPAC board member introducing the group stood at a podium right in the middle of the audience. And the thousands of delegates can see everything becuase of an enormous video screen that stretches almost the full length of the Washington Convention Center’s immense hall.

The first standing ovation of the three-day conference came after Bayh launched a blast at the Goldstone Report, noting that Israel was criticized for unintentionally harming civilians while its adversaries in the Gaza conflict "intentionally target civilians."

And moderator Dan Senor noted that panelist Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had at the 2009 conference predicted that in a year the United States and Israel could be facing as big a disagreement as they had ever faced (although Satloff had said it would be about Iran, not settlements). Satloff noted that "we’re at a very serious moment," but that it is a 5 or 6 compared to the 8 or 9 of the 1956 Suez crisis.

Satloff said that the crisis is on its way to being resolved, but that "when resolved, it will leave scars." He added that the likely impact of this crisis is that it will hasten Iran’s efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capability, but should also "hasten the clock of Israeli preventive action on Iran"– a statement which received applause.

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