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Sanders floats leveraging aid to Israel to push for policy changes with Palestinians

White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) indicated Monday that if elected president he would leverage billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Israel to push Jerusalem to change its policies toward the Palestinians.

“At a time when we spend $3.8 billion on military aid to Israel, we have the right to say to the Israeli government that the United States of America and our taxpayers and our people believe in human rights, we believe in democracy, we will not accept authoritarianism or racism and we demand that the Israeli government sit down with the Palestinian people and negotiate an agreement that works for all parties,” Sanders said at a Washington conference hosted by J Street, a liberal advocacy group whose stated mission is to help end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

“I would use the leverage, $3.8 billion is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government or to any government at all,” he added. “We have the right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”

The U.S. and Israel reached an agreement in 2016 that would send a record $38 billion in military aid to Jerusalem over a 10-year period. Critics have long decried the agreement, saying American taxpayer dollars should not help fund Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Sanders has floated the idea of leveraging aid to Israel in the past, saying in July that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads “an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies” in reference to Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sanders told advocates on Monday that some of the military assistance to Israel should instead be allocated to the Gaza Strip in the form of humanitarian aid.

“If you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship with the people of Gaza,” he said. “In fact, I think it is fair to think that some of that $3.8 billion should go to humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Sanders went further in his willingness to place conditions on aid than four other 2020 Democratic contenders who spoke at the J Street conference over the past two days.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro expressed openness to conditioning aid so that U.S. assets would not be used for building or annexing West Bank settlements, while Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) refrained from saying they would place any conditions on military aid to Israel.

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