SALT LAKE CITY — Bernie Sanders pledged Monday that if elected president he would be “a friend not only to Israel but to the Palestinian people” as the United States seeks a help broker a two-state solution to the region’s long-standing conflict.
“Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence and terrorism,” Sanders said during a speech here. “But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
Sanders said there is “too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored,” referring to the Palestinian territory.
The speech by the Democratic White House hopeful was intended to touch on themes he would have addressed if he had accepted an invitation to speak at a gathering in Washington on Monday of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sanders, who would be the nation’s first Jewish president, was the only remaining presidential candidate from either major party to pass on the opportunity to speak to the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.
He cited conflicting plans to campaign in three Western states with nominating contests Tuesday -- Arizona, Idaho and Utah -- that are key to his attempt to mount an improbable comeback in the Democratic race against Hillary Clinton. Clinton addressed the conference on Monday morning.
Sanders’s remarks also touched on his vision for fighting the Islamic State terrorist group and included a call for a negotiated political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. The half-hour speech was one of the few times during his campaign that Sanders had veered from his focus on domestic issues to speak as broadly on foreign policy.
During his remarks, prior to a large-scale rally here, Sanders said he would continue the United States’ posture as “a partner and as a friend to Israel.” But he was also critical of several policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
That included Netanyahu’s vocal opposition to the recent U.S.-led deal with Iran intended to keep that country from developing a nuclear weapon.
“I do not accept the idea that the ‘pro-Israel’ position was to oppose that agreement,” Sanders said. And I am not alone in that idea. While Prime Minister Netanyahu is vocally opposed to the accord, his is hardly a consensus opinion in Israel, and it’s important that everybody understand that.”
In addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sander said plenty of concessions would be necessary from both sides, and said he would not predict the exact order or pace.
“Peace will require the unconditional recognition by all, by all people, of Israel’s right to exist,” Sanders said. “It will require an end to attacks of all kinds against Israel.”
Yet Sanders also criticized the Netanyahu government for what he called “disproportionate responses to being attacked.”
During an interview that aired Monday night on CNN, Sanders elaborated, saying: "I think that overwhelmingly the United States, time and time again, has looked aside when Israel has done some bad things. ... I think that the kind of destruction that was racked on Gaza during that war was way above what needed to be done for military purposes. A lot of civilians were killed. A lot of hospitals, and schools, and apartments were destroyed, above and beyond what had to be done."
In his speech, Sanders said the United States must play a greater role disrupting the Islamic State's financing and its “efforts on the Internet to turn disaffected youth into the next generation of terrorists.”
But Sanders said he agrees with Jordanian King Abdullah’s assessment that “this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Islam and that the Muslim nations themselves will have to win it on the ground.”