For the first time in history, an official representative of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will address a conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, to be held later this month.
Efrat Regional Council head Oded Revivi is set to take part in a panel on the future of Judea and Samaria. His appearance at the conference is a sign of growing ties between the lobby organization and the Yesha Council, the umbrella body of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (and formerly the Gaza Strip), of which Revivi has served as a foreign minister of sorts.
Up until a few years ago, AIPAC, like numerous U.S. administrations, had avoided any manner of ties with the residents of Judea and Samaria. It was only on rare occasions that the delegations it sent to Israel would also tour the settlements.
But by the end of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s term in office, change was in the air and the Yesha Council increased its efforts towards building ties with influential organizations in the United States, among them AIPAC.
Meanwhile, the recognition by the heads of AIPAC’s leadership of the irreversible reality in Judea and Samaria, along with changes to the organization’s leadership, led to a change in its approach. Over the past two years, AIPAC delegations have visited Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line. 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.
In contrast to expectations, among the participants in the tours are not only hawkish members of the Republican Party but also many Democrats, including from among the party’s more progressive ranks. According to sources with knowledge of the details of these visits, the tours have helped forge ties between the Yesha Council and the African-American lobby in Congress, which has been known to take a critical stance on Israel. The settlers say the tours have great value in that they help explain their worldview and change prejudices.
While the Yesha Council and AIPAC have kept the names of the senior Democrats who visited beyond the Green Line under wraps, there are those participants who are willing to speak about their experience publicly.
Attorney Jeffrey Barrack, a Democrat and AIPAC member from Philadelphia, said that his visit to Judea and Samaria some six months ago had a big impact on him. On a tour of Gush Etzion, Barrack met with regional council members, as well as Efrat Regional Council head Revivi. Barrack recalled how Revivi described the coexistence between the settlers and their Arab neighbors, and said he believes that peace will develop from the ground up.
Barrack said, “I believe in this vision with all my heart, and I want to share it with my American friends.”
Revivi said “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that an official representative of the Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria is speaking at the AIPAC conference by virtue of his position. This comes after we worked closed closely with AIPAC’s office in Israel over the past two years.”
He said that at the core of this relationship were “encounters with delegations that arrived here at an average rate one every two months.”
He noted that “at first, we would travel to meet the delegations, but in the past year, they have come in an organized manner to Gush Etzion and Efrat, and their members see the joint industrial areas and speak to the mukhtars [heads] of the adjacent [Arab] villages. Democratic representatives that also come here understand that an enterprise of half a million people is something that is planted firmly in the ground, and they are looking for a way to cooperate with it.”