Bernie Sanders — the only American presidential candidate who skipped the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) conference in Washington Monday night — hit out at the Israeli government for its continuing expansion of settlements in the West Bank during a speech in Utah. The Vermont senator urged Israel to end the economic blockade of Gaza and to release millions of shekels in tax revenue that the Benjamin Netanyahu-led administration has withheld from the Palestinians.
“To my mind, as friends — long-term friends with Israel — we are obligated to speak the truth as we see it. That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times,” Sanders, who is also the only Jewish candidate and one whose views were shaped in part by his time living on an Israeli kibbutz, said. “But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high.”
The occupied territories in the West Bank, which Palestine says should be part of its future state, have been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967, in direct contravention of the United Nations resolutions 242 and 446, which call for the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the region and an end to expansion of Jewish settlements.
Sanders’ comments come at a time when the Israeli government is being globally panned for its decision to expropriate nearly 580 acres of land in the West Bank — the single largest land confiscation in the region in recent years.
“Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza — once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part,” Sanders added. “It is absurd for elements within the Netanyahu government to suggest that building more settlements in the West Bank is the appropriate response to the most recent violence.”
Sanders, who recently scored a big win over his rival Hillary Clinton in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries in an overseas presidential primary, also reaffirmed his support for the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement, finalized last July, has faced stiff opposition from the Israeli government and many in the U.S., including Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
“I do not accept the idea that the ‘pro-Israel’ position was to oppose the deal,” Sanders said. “The bottom line is this: if successfully implemented — and I think it can be — the nuclear deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And preventing Iran from getting the bomb makes the world a safer place.”