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Clinton And Sanders Fiddle While Palestine Burns – OpEd

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Hillary Clinton made a statement about the Israel-Palestine conflict (you can watch her entire talk on MSNBC starting at 1 hr:29 minutes) on the campaign trail in Iowa that was so stupid that I thought it was worth highlighting.  In answer to a question from the audience, she said:

“I know what the hard decisions are – for the Israelis it is security – how you secure it against a now volatile neighborhood. Security is a real issue and it is not something you can quickly resolve. For the Palestinians, it is autonomy – for them to make their own decisions and not be continually under the authority of the Israelis. And that is really where the two collide.”

“And now it is very difficult to figure out how either the Palestinians or the Israelis can put together a deal until they know what is going to happen in Syria, and until they know if Jordan will remain stable. It’s a really dangerous and complicated situation” she added.

But she said that no one should ever give up on pushing for a two-state solution, and should keep pushing for more support and relief for the Palestinians “so they can have more authority over the territories they are largely responsible for.”

There you have it.  Israel is entitled to security.  But Palestine is entitled to…autonomy?  Really, is that what Palestinians want?  Hey, I thought Hillary was secretary of state for four years and promoting a Palestinian state.  Did she all of a sudden decide she doesn’t?

What sort of locution is “having more authority over the territories they are largely responsible for?”  What does this mean?  It somehow feels like she’s been trapped in a time warp going back to before the U.S. government supported a two state solution.  Or possibly she’s so beholden to those right-wing pro-Israel donors like Haim Saban that she can’t even bring herself to say the “S” word (for “state”).

No, no, no. We can’t vote for such a candidate either in a primary or general election.  She simply won’t do.  She will have to win or lose without my vote.

But Bernie Sanders is no gift either.  I’m not sure what’s going on with Bernie.  He is laser-like and focused on the progressive side of virtually every issue but two: Palestine and guns (more on that another time).  In the past, he’s spoken out far more forcefully in favor of Palestine than now.  When he was the mayor of Burlington, he even advocated a cut-off in U.S. aid for Israel (see video).  Of course, it’s far easier to be progressive in a liberal bastion like Burlington than on the national stage in Washington DC.  After all, Barack Obama even broke bread with Ali Abunimah when he was a lowly state senator in Chicago.

But what disturbs me is that a politician known for being fearless in expounding his views on every subject, all of a sudden gets a frog in his throat when it comes to the Middle East.  It certainly doesn’t revolve around campaign cash because he’s not beholden to the pro-Israel fat cats like Hillary is.  But there is one major elephant in the room which he must fear: the Lobby.  He’s been around the House long enough to see several careers go up in flames after Congress members crossed the Lobby and paid the price for it.  He knows that Aipac and other major pro-Israel players have access to the media and can spin his campaign in any direction they wish.  All he has to do is take a tiny baby step toward supporting BDS or using words like apartheid or war crimes and the Lobby will be on him like flies on s(^t.

But I can’t tell you how troubling it is to hear a candidate you think might be “the entire package” muddle about with mealy-mouthed statements about supporting a two-state solution.  Bernie’s no dope.  He’s got to know that train left the station a long time ago.

But I think he’s petrified of the issue.  It’s torpedoed the foreign policy of a number of presidents.  Look what happened when Barack Obama tackled something as small as a settlement freeze.  Bernie knows there’s no easy fix.  He knows it will require an immense coördinated effort among international powers, not to mention somehow bringing along the parties themselves.  Why go there? That’s what he figures, I guess.

Further, Bernie’s campaign centers on domestic policy.  His passion is economic justice and equality of opportunity.  He appears to have very little interest in foreign policy.  He never talks about it.  To him, I think Israel is a distraction.  A detour into a minefield he’d rather avoid.

Though I can understand the tactical reasons for remaining mute about Palestine, he’s doing a disservice to progressive values.  I don’t think in this day and age you can run a credible presidential campaign that avoids foreign policy.  And you can’t be a truth-telling candidate if you refuse to tell the truth about this issue.

This article was published at Tikun Olam.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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