The US won’t “help foot the bill” if Israel annexes the settlements it has built in the West Bank, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg declared in a policy speech, deviating from the usual US deference to Israel.
“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,” former South Bend, Indiana mayor Buttigieg declared in the first foreign policy speech of his campaign at Indiana University in Bloomington on Tuesday.
While the candidate insisted he was committed to a “strong” US-Israel relationship, refraining from calling out the illegal nature of the settlements or otherwise criticizing the Israeli government, he insisted that the option to criticize that regime should remain available to Americans. Israel currently receives $3.8 billion per year from the US in military aid, or about $10.4 million per day – a statistic Buttigieg did not mention in his speech.
“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,” Buttigieg said. “A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward.”
Buttigieg spoke up for peace in the Middle East, promising to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and “repeal and replace” the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that is still being invoked to justify military action nearly two decades after the September 11 attacks that spawned it. Slamming Congress for being “asleep at the switch,” he declared, “We should never again send troops into conflict without a clear definition of their mission and an understanding of what comes after.”
Criticizing Israel has historically amounted to political suicide in American politics, even though Democratic voters made their disdain for the Netanyahu government clear as recently as March when millions of MoveOn.org activists called on the candidates to boycott the AIPAC lobbying conference, a key stop on the campaign trail. Freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) nevertheless sparked an immense backlash when she suggested lawmakers’ slavish devotion to Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” triggering multiple conciliatory votes condemning antisemitism, and states continue to advance bills denouncing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Last week, a group of Senate Democrats including 2020 candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders introduced a resolution condemning the “annexation of territory in the West Bank” and promoting a two-state solution. The resolution also attacked Trump’s “deal of the century,” which while it has yet to be officially unveiled amid rumors it would require the Palestinians to give up any hope of ever returning to the land they were evicted from during the 1948 Nakba, has been roundly condemned by Palestinians and Democrats alike. US envoy to Israel David Friedman inflamed the rumors earlier this week when he suggested Israel “has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
Settlement construction has exploded since Trump took office, with the government spending 39 percent more on roads, schools, and public buildings in the West Bank in 2017 compared to the previous year – the highest figures in the 15 years’ worth of data provided by the Israeli Finance Ministry to the AP. Netanyahu promised during his reelection campaign to officially annex the enclaves, which are considered illegal under international law. Palestinian leaders say permitting Israel to formally annex the settlements will torpedo any hope of a two-state solution.
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