US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has said that some of the $3 billion that Washington gives to Israel in military aid every year should be given to the Palestinians as humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.
Democrat Senator Sanders made his comment at the national conference of J Street in Washington DC.
Referring to the 10 year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the US and Israel negotiated by former President Barack Obama, he said: “My solution is to say to Israel: you get $3.8 billion every year; if you want military aid you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza, in fact, I think it is fair to say that some of that should go right now into humanitarian aid.”
He added his belief that the US cannot give such aid “carte blanche” to the Israeli government, or for that matter, to any government at all. “We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”
In October 2018, the largest-ever US military aid package to Israel – worth $38 billion over a period of ten years — came into force.
The MOU was initially signed in 2016 and set funding at $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing, with a further $500 million for “cooperative programmes for missile defence” every year for the next decade.
Under US President Donald Trump, this high level of spending has been protected fiercely, despite budget cuts to other sectors.
At the conference, Sanders was interviewed on stage by former Obama White House official Ben Rhodes. The presidential hopeful also attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that it’s not anti-Semitic to state that his government has been racist.
“Let me underline this because it will be misunderstood,” explained Sanders. “It is not anti-Semitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist. It is a fact.”
The 2020 candidate said he would condition US aid to Israel on the Israelis taking tangible steps towards a two-state solution and improving the conditions of the Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza.
US aid, he said, could be invested in economic development.
Sanders added that it isn’t only Netanyahu’s government that has been the problem: “Let us recognise there has been corruption in terms of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Let’s recognise that as well.”
Former US Ambassador at the UN, Nikki Haley, criticised Sander’s proposal about US aid. “Just when you thought Bernie Sanders couldn’t get any more radical, he outdid himself,” the staunchly anti-Palestinian Haley wrote on Twitter.
“He wants to take money we give to Israel to defend itself from terrorists, and give it to Gaza, which is run by terrorists?? Unreal. Why isn’t every other Dem presidential candidate saying he’s wrong?”
In August, Sanders said that the US cannot prioritise the wants and needs of Israel over all else if it wants to help bring peace to the Middle East.