South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg promised, if elected president, to cut U.S. aid to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed through on an election promise to annex parts of Judea and Samara — the “West Bank.”
Buttigieg, delivering what was billed as his first major address on foreign policy at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, claimed that President Donald Trump had made the United States into a version of Russia. He also slammed Trump for his negotiations on denuclearization with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — while attacking Trump for pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. And he said that the Trump administration had neglected white supremacist terror in its focus on radical Islamic terror.
But Buttigieg — once regarded as a rare pro-Israel voice — blasted Israel as well:
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, a central tenet of U.S. 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 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill.
Professional critics of Israel were delighted by Buttigieg’s comments, including J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami:
Really important comments from @PeteButtigieg. Annexation would be a game-changer – and the US has every right to exert control over how its money is spent. #NoMoreBlankCheck
— Jeremy Ben-Ami (@JeremyBenAmi) June 11, 2019
Successive U.S. administrations have recognized that large Israeli settlement blocs within the West Bank are going to be part of Israel under any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, some areas had large Jewish populations before Jews were expelled during the 1948 war declared by Israel’s Arab neighbors against the fledgling Jewish state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a promise to annex parts of the West Bank during his re-eleciton campaign this past spring (he will face another election in September after a small conservative party blocked his efforts to create a governing coalition). Israel regards the threat of annexation as one of the few ways to ensure Palestinians negotiate.
It is not clear how Buttigieg would propose to cut funding to Israel, but the idea of threatening Israel is not new. President Barack Obama tried a similar approach, deliberately creating distance between the U.S. and Israel, and attempting to separate Judea and Samaria from Israel. The result was a weaker position for both Israel and the U.S. within the Middle East; an emboldened Iran; and intransigence from the Palestinians, who refused to negotiate.
Notably, Buttigieg did not mention Palestinian terror, nor did he explain which Israeli policies he held responsible for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005 in a move welcomed by the world but exploited by Hamas and other terror organizations to ramp up their terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Both Israel and Egypt restrict the movement of goods into Gaza to prevent weapons from entering the area, but Israel also allows large amounts of humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip daily, as well as financial aid for the Palestinians.
Buttigieg’s reference to “the mathematics of demography” also appears to take for granted faulty demographic numbers that have, for decades, predicted that Jews would become a minority in the area. In fact, Jews are likely to remain in the majority even if Israel annexed the whole of the West Bank, preventing a hypothetical situation of minority rule.
The 37-year-old Buttigieg ditched his usual shirtsleeves in favor of a jacket, after media criticism of his informal attire.
Buttigieg has also touted his experience in the U.S. Navy Reserve, attacking Trump for not serving in the military.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.