JERUSALEM – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said this week he would urge the Israeli government to pull out of West Bank settlement and accused the Israel Defense Forces of using “disproportionate” force in its war against Hamas in Gaza in 2014.
The far-left contender, speaking to the New York Daily News ahead of the New York primaries scheduled for April 19, also vastly inflated the number of Palestinians killed by Israel in the operation, but conceded that he “did not remember the figures.”
“I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza,” Sanders told the paper’s editorial board.
“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,” he said.
Israel and the Palestinians published different figures for the death toll of Operation Protective Edge, as Israel dubbed it, but both put the number of dead well below 2,500, including both civilians and militants. Israel says 1,408 of 2,203 Palestinians killed in the war were militants. Hamas claimed more than half were civilians.
Sanders referenced Israel’s bombing of a hospital but he left out that the IDF bombed an Gaza’s empty Al-Wafa Hospital, saying it was being used as a Hamas terrorist command center. No casualties were reported in the bombing, and Israel first fired numerous warning shots and ensured that the building was evacuated.
Speaking of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Sanders said that from an American 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.”
Asked by the paper whether Israeli pullouts from West Bank settlements (Israel pulled out all its Gaza settlements in the 2005 disengagement) would be a “baseline” for future negotiations with the Palestinians, Sanders said it was a “fair question,” but added that he thought that “if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.”
Asked “who makes the call” on the legal status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank (Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan, not the Palestinians), the Vermont senator said “Well, I think that’s based on previous treaties and ideas. I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.”
The position of the Obama administration, as stated by the president and his staff, is that Jewish settlements in the area the Palestinians claim for a future state are illegal.
Sanders, the only Jewish candidate in the race and the only one who would not reschedule campaign plans to appear before AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel group in US politics, insisted he believed “100% not only in Israel’s right to exist, [but] a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks.”
The candidate also stressed the fact that he has family in Israel.