Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addressed in length his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an editorial board meeting with the New York Daily News last Thursday, the transcript of which was published on Monday.
During the meeting, Sanders explained his position to demand from the Israeli government to not only halt construction in West Bank settlements but also to withdraw from settlements even before a peace settlement is reached. “If the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate,” he said.
“I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100% not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks,” the Jewish senator from Vermont explained. “But from the United States’ point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area. And I think that for long-term peace in that region, Israel cannot just simply expand when it wants to expand with new settlements.”
But Sanders refused to go into further details as to what the U.S. administration would demand from Israel – if he’s elected as president – as a baseline to restart peace negotiations. ‘There’s going to be a lot of things on the baselines,” he stated. “There are going to be demands being made of the Palestinian folks as well,” including “the absolute condemnation of all terrorist attacks.”
Sanders also repeated what he called was an overreaction of Israel in response to Hamas launching hundreds of rockets into Israel during the Gaza war in the summer of 2o14. “I think most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed,” he asserted. “My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”
Nevertheless, Sanders expressed his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to file charges against Israel for alleged war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
He also maintained that his position remains that peace will also require Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
The Democratic presidential hopeful has recently received the backing of several pro-Palestinian groups and activists critical of Israel. On Monday, Sanders was introduced by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, who came under fire for denouncing critics on Twitter as “Zionist trolls,” at a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin. “When I started supporting Bernie Sanders, nobody told me, ‘Look, you can’t be too Muslim up there. Don’t bring up those Palestinians.’ They welcomed all of me,” Sarsour told the crowd.
Sanders also declined an invitation to address AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., last month.
Read the full text of Sanders discussing his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict below:
Daily News: Good, thank you. So I want to focus you on some international issues, starting with Israel. While speaking forcefully of Israel’s need for security, you said that peace will require an end to attacks of all kinds and recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Just to be clear, does that mean recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?
Sanders: Of course…that’s the status quo.
Daily News: Okay. You’ve called not just for a halting construction of so-called settlements on the West Bank, but you’ve also called for pulling back settlements, just as Israel did in Gaza. Describe the pullback that you have in mind.
Sanders: Well, that’s the Israeli government’s plan, but I think that right now…I’m not going to run the Israeli government. I’ve got enough problems trying to be a United States senator or maybe President of the United States.
Daily News: No, but if you are President, you will, I assume, become deeply enmeshed in attempting the peace process.
Sanders: I assume that’s something…
Daily News: And where you start on the negotiations is important.
Sanders: Here’s the main point that I want to make. I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100% not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks. But from the United States’ point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area. And I think that for long-term peace in that region, and God knows nobody has been successful in that for 60 years, but there are good people on both sides, and Israel is not, cannot, just simply expand when it wants to expand with new settlements. So I think the United States has got to help work with the Palestinian people as well. I think that is the path toward peace.
Daily News: I was talking about something different, though. Expanding settlements is one thing; coming into office as a President who said as a baseline that you want Israel to pull back settlements, that changes the dynamic in the negotiations, and I’m wondering how far and what you want Israel to do in terms of pulling back.
Sanders: Well, again, you’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer. But I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.
Daily News: And who makes the call about illegality, in your mind?
Sanders: Well, I think that’s based on previous treaties and ideas. I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.
Daily News: Okay, so if we were to find Israeli settlements, so-called settlements, in places that has been designated to be illegal, you would expect Israel to be pulling them back?
Sanders: Israel will make their own decisions. They are a government, an independent nation. But to the degree that they want us to have a positive relationship, I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians.
Daily News: Okay, but I’m just talking about, you’d be getting involved in the negotiations, and this would be setting a benchmark for the negotiations that you would enter the talks, if you do, having conveyed to both parties, including the Palestinians, that there’s a condition here that you want Israel to remove what you described as “illegal settlements.” That’s going to be the baseline. Now, if you’re really…
Sanders: Well, there’s going to be a lot of things on the baselines. There are going to be demands being made of the Palestinian folks as well. When you sit down and negotiate, obviously…
Daily News: And what are those demands?
Sanders: Well, for a start, the absolute condemnation of all terrorist attacks. The idea that in Gaza there were buildings being used to construct missiles and bombs and tunnels, that is not where foreign aid should go. Foreign aid should go to housing and schools, not the development of bombs and missiles.
Daily News: Okay. Now, you have obviously condemned Hamas for indiscriminate rocket attacks and the construction of the military tunnels. But you’ve also criticized Israel for what you described as a disproportionate response.
Daily News: And I’m going to look at 2014, which was the latest conflict. What should Israel have done instead?
Sanders: You’re asking me now to make not only decisions for the Israeli government but for the Israeli military, and I don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions. But I think it is fair to say that the level of attacks against civilian areas…and I do know that the Palestinians, some of them, were using civilian areas to launch missiles. Makes it very difficult. But I think most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed. Look, we are living, for better or worse, in a world of high technology, whether it’s drones out there that could, you know, take your nose off, and Israel has that technology. And I think there is a general belief that, with that technology, they could have been more discriminate in terms of taking out weapons that were threatening them.
Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes?
Daily News: Why not?
Sanders: Why not?
Daily News: Why not, why it…
Sanders: Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world? I’m just telling you that I happen to believe…anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?
Daily News: I think it’s probably high, but we can look at that.
Sanders: I don’t have it in my number…but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.
Daily News: Okay. We will check the facts. I don’t want to venture a number that I’m not sure on, but we will check those facts. Now, talk about Hamas. What is it? Is it a terrorist organization?
Daily News: Okay. Hezbollah too?