Why Sanders supports the 'Palestinian Question'?

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has raised many eyebrows with his radical stance on Palestine
Shubda Chaudhary Delhi

As the US gears up for another dramatic presidential election, it is also essential to take note of how Bernie Sanders intends to shape American foreign policy in the Middle East. Though Sanders was absent from the AIPAC Conference where Hillary Clinton criticized Trump for taking a ‘neutral’ stand on the Israel-Palestine peace process, it does not mean that Sanders does not have his own political and strategic goals in mind.

In fact, Sanders' stand on the Israel-Palestine peace process has been quite adamant right from March 1988 when, for the first time, he called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians an ‘absolute disgrace.’ He made this statement during the first Intifada, when the barbaric and inhuman manner in which Israel treated Palestinians finally caught the international media's attention. Nearly three decades later, he has brought back the ‘Palestinian Question’ onto centre stage, from where it has previously been strategically absent. The difference of opinion 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.’  Sanders, despite being the son of Jewish immigrants and having 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 political office for the first time, he advocated a ‘No Guns for Israel’ policy. Today, he frantically supports the ‘two-state solution’. Taking into account his own personal history and his fight for justice, he definitely comes out as the face of the young progressive Jewish population in the US, who do not condone the state orchestrated violence. Although it would have a detrimental impact on his political relationship with AIPAC, Sanders' ideology has withstood the test of time. His consistent stand on issues is one of his most appealing qualities as a Presidential candidate. Hamid Dabashi, a Professor from Columbia University opines that even if Sanders were to water down his views on Palestine, the political leadership in Israel would block his every move.

During his campaign 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 the first time that a Presidential candidate has spoken about the Palestinians and their cause.

He also believes that an effective peace policy cannot be one-sided. He strongly 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’. He also wants to bring Hezbollah and Hamas under scrutiny. Interestingly, Sanders did not label them terrorist organizations. He talks about the right to self-determination of Palestinians.

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 of Palestinian territories has not been acknowledged. The term ‘occupation’ itself has not been highlighted in connection with Israel.

In his politically invigorating speech, Sanders addressed various issues including how the Netanyahu government has been building up more settlements and has withheld millions of Shekels in tax revenue as part of its economic blockade on Gaza. 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' support for Palestine might lead to an estranged relationship with the AIPAC. It would be interesting to see how the Netanyahu government treats Sanders and if at all he can emerge victorious despite his hard-hitting and audacious statements.