Four of the leading candidates for president presented their Middle East policy views at the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference on March 21, while the fifth, Senator Bernie Sanders, declined to attend, preferring to continue campaigning. Sanders, however, presented his Middle East views at an event in Utah, and sent a transcript to AIPAC Chairman Robert Cohen.
While the candidates all expressed strong support for Israel's right to exist and denounced terrorism against Israelis and genocidal Iranian threats, there were also distinct differences in their approach to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and how to address the problems of the wider Middle East.
While there were some errors in the candidates' assertions, Senator Sanders stood alone in repeating a number of allegations that can only be called anti-Israel propaganda. What follows is a basic fact check of the candidates' remarks.
Governor John Kasich
We supported the Phantom 2000 program guaranteeing Israeli air superiority with the latest fighters and the transfer of reactive armor technology that has made the Israeli tanks so effective.
Reactive armor was actually pioneered by Israel, and was first used in combat by the Israel Defense Forces in 1982. See for example Defense Update, Modern Reactive Armor.
Governor Kasich's statement thus makes Israel seem more dependent on US military aid than it in fact is.
As we shall see, in her remarks Secretary Clinton also did this multiple times.
Senator Bernie Sanders
I am here to tell the American people that, if elected president, I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high.
So when we talk about Israel and Palestinian areas, it is important to understand that today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored. You can't have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.
To begin with, it's surprising that Senator Sanders would claim that the Palestinians have been "ignored." On the contrary, coverage of the Palestinians and their grievances receives disproportionate attention throughout the Western media.
And Senator Sanders seems to skirt the question of why unemployment or at least the official rate is so high in Gaza. Could it have something to do with the Hamas leaders of Gaza spending all the money they can muster, including stolen aid money and supplies from the EU and the US, to attack Israelis? Wouldn't the unemployment rate be lower if that aid had been spent on building homes, factories, hotels, desalination plants, and water treatment plants, as intended by the donors?
Senator Sanders is certainly correct that Palestinians have faced hardships, but perhaps he's unaware that those hardships are largely self-imposed. For the fact is that the Palestinian leadership has turned down statehood offers multiple times, starting in 1948 when the Palestinians and the Arab countries rejected the UN Partition Resolution, that would have created a Palestinian state next to Israel. Had the offer been accepted, there wouldn't have been a single Palestinian refugee, and the more than 6000 Israelis who were killed in the 1948 war would have had a chance to live.
Unfortunately this pattern of Palestinian rejectionism has been regularly repeated. For example, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat rejected President Clinton's peace plan in 2000, after Israeli leader Ehud Barak had accepted it. The Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, harshly criticized Arafat's refusal
of that deal:
Last week The New Yorker magazine revealed that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, regards Mr Arafat's failure to accept the peace deal brokered by President Bill Clinton in January 2001 as "a crime".
According to the magazine, Prince Bandar met Mr Arafat on his arrival for the talks in Washington and told him: "Since 1948, every time we've had something on the table we say no. Then we say yes. When we say yes, it's not on the table any more. Then we have to deal with something less. Isn't it about time we said yes?"
The article states that Saudi's Crown Prince Abdullah told Prince Bandar that he was shocked that Mr Arafat had wasted such an opportunity and complained that the Palestinian chairman had lied to him about the terms of the American offer. "It broke my heart that Arafat did not take that offer," Prince Bandar said.
Also ignored by Senator Sanders is that the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's even more far-reaching 2008 proposal. For the full details, including a map outlining what Abbas rejected, see here.
In his remarks Senator Sanders also criticized a supposed Israeli expropriation of land:
That is why I join much of the international community, including the U.S. State Department and European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel's recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security as well.
Expropriating land is the taking of private property by a government, which is not what happened here. For the land in question there is no evidence of private ownership, which is why it was formally classified as state or public land. Under the law there is a 45 day period during which interested parties can dispute this finding by presenting evidence of ownership.
Senator Sanders also spoke of an economic blockade of Gaza:
Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza.
There is no Israeli economic blockade of Gaza thousands of supply trucks enter Gaza from Israel every week, with the number of truckloads for 2015 totaling almost 95,000. However, Israel does try to inspect these trucks to try to prevent the importing of weapons, including explosives and rockets, and of materials that Hamas and other terrorist groups can use to make such weapons.
If Gazans were to stop attacking Israelis and really commit to living in peace, one could indeed expect a resumption of easy access to and from Gaza for both peoples, as there has been in the past.
Next, Senator Sanders spoke of water:
And it will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors.
Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land.
Senator Sanders' water claims read like they were copied straight off an anti-Israel propaganda site. Israel does not control 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. The aquifers that straddle the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank are a shared water resource, but most of the stored water is under pre-1967 Israel, making it easily accessible only in Israel. In no sense is the water in these aquifers "Palestinian."
Thus, even in the 1950s, when the West Bank was occupied by Jordan, Israel used 95 percent of the Western Aquifer's water, and 82 percent of the Northeastern Aquifer's water. Today, Israel's share of these aquifers has declined to 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively. That is, under direct Israeli administration the Palestinian share of these aquifers has actually increased. (For more details see here.)
In addition, every year over 40 MCM (million cubic meters) of water from sources within Israel is piped over the Green Line for Palestinian use in the West Bank. For example, the major Palestinian city of Ramallah and surrounding Palestinian communities receive over 10 MCM of water from Israel annually, according to the Jerusalem Water Undertaking, the local Palestinian water utility. This accounts for about 83 percent of the water supplied by the utility.
Israel annually sends another 4 MCM over its border for Palestinian use in Gaza, despite the many attacks by Gaza against Israelis.
Thus, contrary to what Senator Sanders seem to believe, it is the Palestinians who are using Israeli water.
Referring to the fighting in 2014 between Israel and Hamas, Senator Sanders said:
However, let me also be very clear: I along with many supporters of Israel spoke out strongly against the Israeli counterattacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians and wounded thousands more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps.
Unfortunately Senator Sanders is here again repeating anti-Israel propaganda. About half those killed in Gaza (in the end as a result of the hostilities started by Hamas) were combatants, so the number of civilian deaths was nowhere near 1500. (See here and here.)
And foreign military experts have stated that Israel did more than any other military ever has to avoid harming innocents, despite the fact that Hamas hid their positions, combatants, rocket launchers and warehouses in or next to homes, schools, mosques and hospitals. In fact, Hamas headquarters for the war was in the basement of Shifa Hospital, which Israel did not strike.
Here is Senator Sanders on the Iran nuclear deal:
Now, I think all of us agree that Iran must not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That would just destabilize the entire region and create disastrous consequences.
Where we may disagree is how to achieve that goal. I personally strongly supported the nuclear deal with the United States, France, China, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran because it is the best hope to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon...
The bottom line is this: if successfully implemented and I think it can be the nuclear deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And preventing Iran from getting the bomb makes the world a safer place.
Unfortunately the nuclear deal with Iran can't prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for the simple reason that most of the restrictions expire after 10 years. Thus the most the deal can possibly do is delay an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Senator Sanders spoke further about Iran, commenting on the recent elections there:
While only a small step in the right direction, I was heartened by the results of the recent parliamentary elections in which Iranian voters elected moderates in what was, in part, a referendum on the nuclear deal.
Unfortunately while the Iranian people might have wanted to elect moderates, most of the moderates who wanted to run were prevented from doing so
well before election day. As even the leftist Guardian
Reformists told Tehran Bureau that those blocked included the vast majority of their hopefuls. "I predicted that the Guardian Council would massively disqualify the reformists," said Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University. "But the reality is even worse."
According to Hossein Marashi, a member of the Reformists' Policy Council, which was set up in October to coordinate efforts for the parliamentary poll, out of the total 3,000 reformist candidates, only 30, or 1%, have been qualified.
Electing hardliners while getting Westerners to believe that reformists won the elections is exactly what the Iranian regime wanted. Too bad Senator Sanders fell into their trap.
Senator Ted Cruz
Reacting to Donald Trump's use of the term "Palestine" in his AIPAC speech, Senator Cruz stated
I'm thrilled to be with you here today and let me say at the outset, perhaps to the surprise of a previous speaker, Palestine has not existed since 1948.
While Senator Cruz's criticism of Donald Trump is accurate, it should also be noted that Palestine did not exist as a state before 1948 either. Rather the territory was run by the British under a mandate granted by the League of Nations in 1920, and was known as the Palestine Mandate or the British Mandate for Palestine.
Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In the course of her remarks
, Mrs. Clinton referred multiple times to Israeli anti-missile systems such as the Iron Dome as if they were American creations handed to Israel, rather than Israeli systems developed and deployed with financial help from the US, with the technology then shared with the US:
And your support helped us expand security and intelligence, cooperation, develop the Iron Dome missile defense system ...
Our work together to develop the Iron Dome saved many Israeli lives when Hamas rockets began to fly...
The United States should provide Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology so it can deter and stop any threat. That includes bolstering Israeli missile defenses with new systems, like the Arrow 3 and David's Sling ...
The Iron Dome and the original Arrow system were designed and developed by Israel, with financial help from the United States; since the initial development co-production agreements have been reached with US contractors like Boeing and Raytheon. David's Sling also began as an Israeli design, but there has been greater US involvement through Raytheon in the subsequent development of the system.
Since Israel is arguably the world leader in anti-missile technology it's inaccurate to portray the United States as providing "Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology" in this area. More accurately there has been a partnership, in many cases with Israel playing the leading role.
Mrs. Clinton also referred to her support for the Iran nuclear deal, claiming it "put a lid" on the Iranian nuclear program:
That's why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program. Today, Iran's enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped spinning, Iran's potential breakout time has increased and new verification measures are in place to help us deter and detect any cheating.
Without getting into the details of the Iran deal, there is little dispute that most of the deal's restrictions expire after 10 years, meaning that after that period Iran will be able to resume enriching uranium to whatever degree it chooses, up to and including weapon's grade. It's therefore questionable to claim that a "lid" has been placed on Iran's nuclear program.
As Mrs. Clinton said, "Iran's potential breakout time has increased" which is true if Iran follows the agreement, but even so, after 10 years the breakout time will be much less than it was before the agreement.
Mrs. Clinton said the following about Palestinian terrorism, comparing it with Israeli settlements:
But at the same time, all of us must condemn actions that setback the cause of peace. Terrorism should never be encouraged or celebrated and children should not be taught to hate in schools.
That poisons the future. Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements.
Comparing Palestinian terrorism and hate-indoctrination, which has poisoned the peace process, with Israel's building of settlements really just new homes in settlements that will almost certainly be a part of Israel in any peace agreement seems, at best, deceptive.
So with the president in his final year, discussions have been swirling about an attempt to bring a security council resolution on terms of an eventual agreement between Israel and Palestine. Let me be clear, an agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a total and complete disaster.
As previously noted, there is not nor has there ever been a state of Palestine. If it is created as a result of peace agreement, it will exist for the first time.
Mr. Trump was also unclear with respect to the Iran nuclear deal, at first promising to dismantle the agreement:
My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran. Thank you. I have been in business a long time, I know deal making and let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.
But later in his speech he said:
Third, at the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable and we will enforce it like you've never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.
The seeming contradiction makes his actual position on this crucial matter unclear.