Prime Minister castigates Democratic frontrunner without naming him, tells pro-Israel lobby confab he will annex West Bank settlements, but willing to negotiate with Palestinians
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from Israel via video link at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. ( Jim Watson/AFP)
WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu castigated Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders on Sunday for saying the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) offered a platform for bigotry, calling the charge “libelous” and “outrageous.”
Addressing the pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference via satellite, the Israeli premier urged the 18,000 to in attendance to push back against what he characterized as an attempt to diminish US-Israel ties.
“This year AIPAC was accused of providing a platform for bigotry. These libelous charges are outrageous,” Netanyahu said. “The best way to respond to that outrage is to do what you have done — by gathering in Washington today, in full force, as Democrats and Republicans … You send a great message to all those who seek to weaken our alliance, that they will fail.”
Sanders made the remarks when explaining why he would again skip AIPAC. Sanders, who is Jewish, has also been a sharp critic of Netanyahu for his policies toward Palestinians.
At the Democratic debate on Tuesday in South Carolina, Sanders labeled the Israeli leader a “reactionary racist” and said he’d consider reversing US President Donald Trump’s move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Without naming the Vermont senator, Netanyahu cast him and other progressive Democrats pushing for an American foreign policy more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause as extremists.
“I have a message to all those radicals who seek to weaken [the US-Israel relationship]: the best days of the US-Israel alliance are yet to come,” he said.
The annual AIPAC meeting, which opened Sunday, has seen several speakers attack Sanders, most notably Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who called him an “ignorant fool.”
“Whoever calls the prime minister of Israel a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danon said. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel.”
Netanyahu also lauded the Trump administration for its Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal released in January.
Hours before Israelis head to the polls for the third time in one year, the prime minister vowed to move forward on the Trump plan, which provides for Israel annexing the West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.
“Israel will then apply its sovereignty to all the territories that the Trump plan has designated as part of Israel,” he said. “The map of Israel will change, the future of Israel will change. And it will change for the better.”
Breaking with past US administrations, the Trump team released a proposal that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70% of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave, and fulfill other conditions.
The proposal also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.
“Trump’s Deal of the Century,” Netanyahu said, “is the opportunity of the century for Israel.”
The prime minister extolled the proposal for allowing Israel to maintain security control of the Jordan Valley, and said he was prepared to negotiate with Palestinians over its contents.
The plan, he said, “enables Israel to secure our vital interest and it leaves open a path to a political settlement with the Palestinians, and it will help Israel to normalize relations with our other Arab neighbors.”
In characteristic fashion, the prime minister also warned against “the danger of Iran,” saying he would prevent the rogue nation from acquiring a nuclear arsenal so long as he was in office.
“Israel will do whatever it must do to defend ourselves and secure out future,” he said. “I guarantee you, as long as I’m prime minister, Iran will never have nuclear weapons.”