SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 12 APRIL, 2016
NEW DELHI: As the United States gears up for another dramatic presidential election, it is also essential to take a note of how Bernie Sanders projects to shape US foreign policy in the Middle East. Though Sanders was absent from the AIPAC Conference where Hillary Clinton criticized Trump for taking a ‘neutral’ stand in the Isarael-Palestine Peace Process, it does not mean that Sanders does not have his own political and strategic goals in mind.
In fact, Sander’s stand on the Israel-Palestinian peace process has been quite adamant right from March 1988 when, for the first time, he called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an ‘absolute disgrace.’ It was the first time when, during the first Intifada, the torturous manner in which Israel treated Palestinians and broke their limbs had finally caught the international media attention. Once again in 2016, he has bought back the ‘Palestinian Question’ right at the heart of the debate, from where it has previously been strategically absent. The verbatim in between Hillary Clinton, the neo-conservative, anti-Iran contestant and pro-Palestine Sanders has become so visible that the former did not hesitate to call him ‘dangerous for Israel.’ Interestingly, Sanders who is a son of Polish Jewish immigrants and has spent several months in the Israeli Kibbutz during the 1960s, does not shy away from criticizing Israeli violence.
During a 1971 campaign, when Sanders ran for a political office for the first time, he advocated for ‘No Guns for Israel’. So, since the early times when espousing a Palestinian state was completely absent from the American dialectics, Sanders stood firm. Today, he frantically supports the ‘two-state solution’. Taking his own personal history and his fight for justice, he definitely comes out as the face of young progressive Jewish population in US, who do not validate the bloodshed. Though, it would have detrimental impact on his political relationship with AIPAC, Sanders ideology has tested the waters of time. Thus, his consistency makes one of the most appealing qualities of his candidacy. Though, Hamid Dabashi, a Professor from Columbia University opines that even if Sanders’s stand gets moderate in terms of the ‘Palestinian question’, the political leadership in Israel would block his every move.
Subtly stating his solidarity to the Palestinian Cause, Sanders stated “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.” It is for the first time when a Presidential candidate has spoken about the Palestinians and their cause.
He also believes that a good peace policy cannot be one-sided and hence the number of Palestinians cannot be ignored, those who are suffering. He strong believes that a two-state solution is the best remedy to the ongoing conflict. His first step would be to build confidence on both the sides so that direct negotiations can take place.
He asks for support from the entire international community to endow Israel with the “Right to Exist’. It also brings Hezbollah and Hamas into the scrutiny, so that they could renounce their attacks. Interestingly, Sanders did not automatically include Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. He talks about the right to self determination of Palestinians along with civil and economic well-being.
Sanders also mustered the courage to state that ‘Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory.’ Before this, the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian territories has not been acknowledged. The term ‘occupation’ itself has been considered not note-worthy enough to be highlighted with Israel, which has been a part of the collective injustice being bestowed on the Palestinians.
In his politically invigorating speech, Sanders talked about how Netanyahu government has been building up more settlements, the withholding of millions of Shekels in tax revenue along with economic blockade on Gaza and the water issue. Such issues, though very important, have not been mentioned by any Presidential candidate before. He also condemned the indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip in 2014 which targeted civilians, schools and refugees.
Undoubtedly, Sanders has been quite supportive of the Palestinian cause and possibly, it might lead to his tumultuous political relation with AIPAC. It would be definitely an interesting interplay to scrutinize how Netanyahu government treats Sanders and if, at all, with such hard-hitting and audacious statements, he can strike the victory call.