After issuing video, Sanders won’t say if he backs Palestinian ‘right of return’
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After issuing video, Sanders won’t say if he backs Palestinian ‘right of return’

Senator this week released clip highlighting Palestinian demand, which would end Israel as a Jewish state; his office says video neither endorses nor rejects it

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks on a question during a town hall meeting on April 4, 2018 with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, examining economic justice 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks on a question during a town hall meeting on April 4, 2018 with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, examining economic justice 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

WASHINGTON — After putting out a video highlighting the Palestinian demand for a “right of return,” the office of Senator Bernie Sanders declined to clarify on Friday whether he supports such a right, which, if implemented, would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

“Senator Sanders believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be resolved by the parties in accordance with international law and past UN resolutions,” a senior adviser to Sanders told The Times of Israel.

“At the moment, however, Sen. Sanders is more concerned with de-escalating violence against civilians, addressing Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and ending the occupation and settlements which undermine possibility of a two-state solution and a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

On Tuesday, Sanders released a video montage on Twitter, embossed with his campaign logo, that cross-cut between the inauguration ceremony of the Jerusalem embassy this week and the violence that unfolded in the Gaza Strip.

It also included segments from a panel discussion the Brooklyn native participated in with Lara Friedman, who heads the left-wing Foundation for Middle East Peace, Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, and Rob Malley, a former Obama administration official.

An onscreen message in the clip states: “Gazans have been holding weekly protests at the fence, demanding an end to the ten-year blockade, the occupation, and the right of return to their former homes inside Israel.”

Over the last six weeks, tens of thousands of Gazans, with the encouragement of the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, have been undertaking weekly “March of Return” protests at the border. Some rioters have tried to damage and break the security fence and infiltrate Israel, while others have thrown petrol bombs and rocks, and burned tires.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Those clashes reached their most intense level yet on Monday, coinciding with the Jerusalem embassy opening, when Israeli forces killed more than 60 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Hamas, which has said the marches are designed to erase the border and “liberate Palestine,” acknowledged on Wednesday that 50 of the 62 fatalities on Monday and in further clashes Tuesday were members.

Israel has long insisted that the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, as defined by the Palestinians, is a non-starter in peace negotiations. The UN categorizes as refugees not just those Palestinians who were displaced or expelled from their homes in 1947 and 1948, but also all of their descendants. No other refugee population is treated as such, and so the Palestinian refugee population increases each year, and is now in the millions, while the rest of the world’s decreases.

As a consequence, accepting the “right of return” would mean millions of Palestinians being allowed to enter Israel, ending Israel’s majority Jewish status.

A Palestinian takes part in clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza Strip, east of Khan Younis, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

A Sanders aide said the video neither endorsed nor rejected that demand, but stressed that the video was merely explaining the present situation in Gaza.

Since Monday’s conflagration, Israel has been the subject of international censure. On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an investigation into Israel’s actions during the protests along the Gaza border. Israel rejected the move as attempting to undermine its right to self-defense and said it would not cooperate with the investigation.

The violence has also seemingly divided the American Jewish community. Mainstream and right-leaning Jewish organizations have defended Israel’s security response to the riots, while left-leaning organizations have castigated it as excessive and disproportionate.

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