A Times of Israel news article published on Tuesday reported South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s comments about Israel from his first major foreign policy speech and provided related information about the Trump administration’s position on annexation of part of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). While the article was entirely factual it, unfortunately, had a misleading headline, claiming “he would cut Israel aid over West Bank annexation.” Mayor Buttigieg said nothing of the sort. He never mentioned cutting aid.
What Mr. Buttigieg did say is that if he is president, he’d make sure that the American taxpayer would not foot the bill for annexation. American military aid has always had specific conditions attached to it. Two previous presidents, both Republicans, cut or withheld some aid over disagreements with specific Israeli policies. Ronald Reagan did so over the Israeli strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. George H.W. Bush held up loan guarantees over Prime Minister Shamir’s settlement policy. Both actions were short lived and I don’t know of anyone who thinks that either President Reagan or President Bush were not friends of Israel.
Mayor Buttigieg did not make any demands on Israel regarding ceding land or not retaining land. What he objects to is a unilateral annexation that would preclude any possibility of peace or a two state solution in the future, presumably after a sea change in the Palestinian leadership.
Unlike many of the Democrats running for President Mayor Buttigieg has been to Israel and seems to really understand the situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what he said. In addition, the fact that the “progressive” left is complaining about how pro Israel he is should tell you that he wouldn’t be a problem if elected. Still, at least one TOI blogger today claimed that Mr. Buttigieg “hates Israel,” adding a plug for President Trump at the end. The reality is, if you read the actual text or watch the speech (the very short part on Israel is at 48:40), it becomes clear that this is one Democratic candidate who supports Israel.
Here is the actual text of his comments:
The closer an ally, the more important it is that we speak truth to them. The security and survival of the democratic state of Israel has been and continues to be an essential tenet of US foreign policy, and is very much in our national interest. Which is why neither American nor Israeli leaders should play personal politics with the security of Israel and its neighbors. Just as an American patriot may oppose the policies of an American President, a supporter of Israel may also oppose the policies of the Israeli right-wing government, especially when we see increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace.
The suffering of the Palestinian people, especially the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, has many authors, from the extremism of Hamas and the inefficacy of the Palestinian Authority to the indifference of the international community and, yes, the policies of the current Israeli government. And now, Gaza has become a breeding ground for the kind of extremism that only exacerbates threats to Israel and the region. Israeli and Palestinian citizens should be able to enjoy the freedom to go about their daily lives without fear and to work to achieve economic well-being for their families. As Israel’s most powerful and most reliable ally, the United States has the opportunity to shape a more constructive path with the tough and honest guidance that friendship and fairness require.
The current state of affairs cannot endure. The pressure of history and the mathematics of demography mean that well before 2054, Israelis and Palestinians will have come to see either peace or catastrophe. A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward, and it will be our policy to support such a solution actively. And if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill.