Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in an interview published Friday that the United States should "play a much more evenhanded role" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that, under certain circumstances, he would consider reducing the yearly $3.1 billion in military aid provided by the U.S. to Israel, part of a record $38 billion package over the coming decade.
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Sanders made the comments during an interview on foreign policy to the left-wing website The Intercept. Commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sanders said that "the United States is complicit" in Israel's occupation of the West Bank, but immediately added that "it’s not to say that Israel is the only party at fault."
In the past, Sanders has publicly called to end Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. More recently, however, the independent Vermont senator has spoken out against boycotts of Israel and signed a letter, endorsed by the entire Senate, denouncing the United Nations for its bias against the Jewish state.
In the interview, Sanders said that "in terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the United States has got to play a much more evenhanded role. Clearly that is not the case right now.”
When asked if he would "ever consider" a reduction of military aid to Israel, Sanders said "the answer is yes," and provided the following explanation:
"U.S. funding plays a very important role, and I would love to see people in the Middle East sit down with the United States government and figure out how U.S. aid can bring people together, not just result in an arms war in that area. I think there is extraordinary potential for the United States to help the Palestinian people rebuild Gaza and other areas. At the same time, demand that Israel, in their own interests in a way, work with other countries on environmental issues. So the answer is yes.”
Sanders also expressed strong criticism of U.S. foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia.
“I think that one of the areas that we have got to rethink, in terms of American foreign policy, is our position vis-a-vis Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “For whatever reason – and I think we know some of the reasons having to do with a three-letter word called oil – the United States has kind of looked aside at the fact that Saudi Arabia is an incredibly anti-democratic country and has played a very bad role internationally, but we have sided with them time and time and time again, and yet Iran, which just held elections, Iran, whose young people really want to reach out to the West, we are continuing to put them down.”
Sanders continued, "It is not just that many of the 9/11 bombers came from Saudi Arabia. ... What I think is more significant is their continuing to fund madrassas and to spread an extremely radical Wahhabi doctrine in many countries around the world. And they are funding these mosques, they’re funding the madrassas, and they are fomenting a lot of hatred.”
Sanders did concede, however, that there were "legitimate concerns" about Iran's foreign policy, but noted that the United States should choose a more "evenhanded" approach when dealing with the two Islamic religious regimes in Riyadh and Tehran.
When asked if Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States, Sanders replied: "Do I consider them an ally? I consider them to be an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world, it has funded terrorism, so I can’t. No, they are not an ally of the United States.”