Sanders: 'U.S. and Rest of World Have Got to Work Together to Help Palestinian People'

By Susan Jones | April 15, 2016 | 7:57 AM EDT

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and Hillary Clinton speak during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursday, April 14, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he's not "anti-Israel," but he believes Israel has responded disproportionately to Palestinian provocations; he says the U.S. "is going to to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity," and be more "even-handed" in peace negotiations; and he thinks it's time to say that "Netanyahu is not right all of the time."

"I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people," he said.

Sanders' position contrasted with Hillary Clinton's defense of Israel at Thursday's Democrat debate in Brooklyn.

"Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate," Sanders said.

"But we had in the Gaza area -- not a very large area -- some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed. Now, if you're asking not just me, but countries all over the world, was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was."

(He was referring to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2014.)

"And, let me say something else. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run -- and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity."

Sanders noted that unemployment is running around 40 percent in Gaza, and homes, health are and schools have been "decimated."

"I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I think...to an approach that works in the Middle East."

Clinton, asked for her views, said she negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012 and she knows first-hand that Israeli officials "do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas, aided and abetted by Iran against Israel."

Clinton said Israeli officials called her when she was in Cambodia and told her that they were about to invade Gaza "because they couldn't find anybody to talk to, tell them to stop it," so "I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.

"So, I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself."

Clinton endorsed the notion of a two-state solution that "would give the Palestinians the rights...and the automony that they deserve."

"And let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years."

Sanders, in response, said nobody is suggesting that Israel welcomes missiles flying into their country. "That is not the issue," he said, accusing Clinton of avoiding the question:

"The question is not does Israel have a right to respond, nor does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism. That's not the debate. Was their response disproportionate? I believe that it was, you have not answered that," Sanders said.

"I will certainly be willing to answer it," Clinton said. I think I did answer it by saying that of course there have to be precautions taken, but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible.

She noted that Israel left Gaza. "They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza. So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere."

Sanders said that Clinton, in her speech to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) did not mention "the needs of the Palestinian people."

"So here is the issue," Sanders said. "Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long term, there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.

"That is what I believe the world wants to us do and that's the kind of leadership that we have got to exercise."

"Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it," Clinton said. " And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband's efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I'm the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.

"There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.

"I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel's security."

Sanders then told Clinton, "There comes a time -- there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time...All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue."

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