Bernie Sanders supporters appeared thrilled when they learned he'd turned down an invitation to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Monday. Donald Trump passed up a debate appearance and Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and John Kasich cleared their schedules to speak to 18,000 people inside Washington's Verizon Center.
Snubbing AIPAC requires a degree of courage in American presidential politics. Sanders is fighting for his political life in the campaign. He hasn't taken money from the kind of large donors that AIPAC coordinates. He could not match the other candidates' fervor for Israel.
So perhaps he could afford not to go, which sent a symbolic message. But Sanders also delivered an actual message by text after the conference organizers wouldn't allow a video hook-up. He also delivered the speech in Salt Lake City.
A strong Sanders supporter who is an equally strong critic of Israel's occupation of Palestine might be disappointed in what he said. He couldn't bluntly call Israel's presence an occupation, instead describing it as "what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory."
What amounts to? In other words, Israel really doesn't mean to occupy this land. This just happened on its way to building ever increasing settlements.
Sanders also takes the very safe line of calling for an Israeli and Palestinian state.
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Oslo is Over
The senator from Vermont castigated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for threatening to leave the Oslo Accords, which the two-state idea is based on. Abbas made this threat last September at the U.N. General Assembly. There isn't an analyst with a pulse who thinks Abbas was serious.
But Oslo is already dead, as dead as the two-state solution. It died in May 1999, when its five-year interim period ended, after which Israel should have withdrawn and a Palestinian state should have been created.
The continuation of this interim period, having now lasted another 17 years, has led to charges by Palestinians and others that Abbas and his Palestinian Authority are mere collaborators with Israel's continuing occupation.
Pulling out of Oslo now would blow up the PA, cost Abbas his job and throw security fully in Israel's hands. But it would be the necessary step towards creating a single, democratic state, which is the only solution left.
Everything else at this point, including defending Oslo and two-states, is hot air that supports the status quo allowing Israel to continue the piecemeal conquest of the West Bank.
Sanders did call for an end to Israeli "disproportionate responses to being attacked." But he didn't condemn the two massacres in Gaza in the past seven years as he condemned Hamas rocket fire into Israel, which Palestinians say are acts of resistance.
Syria and the Gulf
On Syria, Sanders appears to accept the Western view, if not propaganda, that Russia wasn't really hitting ISIS, but only anti-Assad groups. Yes Russia hit those groups, but to bolster Assad's army as the major ground force (with the Kurds) to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda).
Sanders repeated his refrain that the Gulf Arabs need to do more to defeat the Islamic State. Somebody must have gotten to him, because he's added to his position the line that he's not asking Saudi Arabia to "invade" Syria. That is exactly what it sounded like that Sanders had been calling for.
Saudi Arabia has already been too involved
in Syria, sending in well-armed jihadists to overthrow the government, inspired by the war cry of fanatical Wahhabi preachers. An invasion by Saudi Arabia, threatened
with Turkey last month, would be the worst possible move, threatening a much wider war.
Though mildly supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel, the feisty crowd at AIPAC would have savaged Sanders, compared to how they showered love on Clinton and Trump.
The packed arena had a circular stage set up in the middle that appeared to purposely mimic the major parties' nominating conventions. It was as if AIPAC was saying they are the ones doing the nominating.
Clinton and Trump Pump the Crowd
Both Trump and Clinton mounted that stage to express fierce loyalty to an Israel that they essentially said could do no wrong. Their talking points could have been written by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Clinton lashed out at critics of Israel who promote boycotting Israeli goods. She promised to increase military aid to Israel, which already stands
at $3 billion a year, and more than $100 billion since 1962. She vowed to stop a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for the end of Israel's West Bank occupation--something the Oslo Accords already did.
In a half-hour speech she only uttered the word "Palestinian" ten times, and mostly in connection with "terrorism." Clinton briefly called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. She said the word "settlements" only once, in passing reference, saying, "Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements." Nothing more was said.
With his typical bombast, Trump said no one had studied the Iran nuclear deal as he had, and that his "number one priority" is to dismantle it.
He also said he would not allow the Security Council to impose a settlement in Palestine. "An agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a total and complete disaster," he said. "The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto, which I will use as president 100 percent."
Trump only used bellicose language toward Palestinians. He cited the killing last week of an American in Israel by "a knife-wielding Palestinian."
"You don't reward behavior like that. You cannot do it," he said. "There's only one way you treat that kind of behavior. You have to confront it."
That sounds like a recipe for more bloodshed. Compared to this rhetoric Sanders' speech was reasonable. He called on Israel, for instance, to stop stealing Palestinian water and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. Perhaps Sanders is holding back his real views on Israel and Palestine, fearful that he could not withstand the attacks of the Israel Lobby and a pro-Israel corporate media.
But in the meantime his prescription for peace did go not far enough. Once again AIPAC's apparent stranglehold on U.S. Middle East policy and on its political candidates seems to snuff out any dream for a resolution to the conflict.