When it comes to the US’s relationship with Israel, Tea Party leader Rand Paul likes his foreign policy they way he likes his economics — laissez-faire. The United States government should not impose policies on Israel, such as asking Jerusalem to restrict West Bank construction, the junior senator from Kentucky said Saturday. He also refused to endorse the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that it was up to Israelis alone to decide what’s best for them.
Wrapping up a one-week visit to the region, Paul reiterated his calls for Washington to decrease foreign aid, including to Israel, but said cuts should first be made to countries hostile to the US, which includes many Middle Eastern nations, but not Israel.
“If I go home with something that I think I may have acquired, it would be that incrementalism that enhances economic prosperity in the Palestinian areas can’t hurt,” he told The Times of Israel Saturday evening in Jerusalem. “But I didn’t come, and am not going away thinking I know the grand solution — one state, two states. Really, ultimately, those are your decisions. Those are not my decisions to make and America shouldn’t dictate them to you.”
The concept of two states for two peoples has been the declared policy of several consecutive US administrations, including under Republican presidents.
‘If you ask me about whether or not you can expand a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, I would tell you it’s none of my business’
Paul, the son of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, said Palestinians and Israelis alike would want Washington to be involved in negotiations. But US politicians should refrain from telling Israel to stop building in areas beyond the Green Line, he said.
“If you ask me about whether or not you can expand a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, I would tell you it’s none of my business. I think you’re right to be offended by US politicians telling you where you can build and where you can’t,” Paul said, in a thinly veiled attack on US President Barack Obama, who endorses the idea of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and has pressured Jerusalem to stop expanding neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.
“It’s none of my business to tell you what to do with the Golan Heights. It really isn’t,” he said.
Rather than dictating policies, Paul said, he would make recommendations that he hopes could lead to a gradual improvement of the situation on the ground, such as building a port in Gaza under joint Palestinian-Israeli control and encouraging more Palestinian representation in Jerusalem’s city council.
“Your best chance for more peace is more trade, more prosperity for Palestinians,” said Paul, who is rumored to be considered a presidential run of his own in 2016. “I came here and I didn’t discover how to bring peace to the Middle East. What I did discover is that there may be incremental change.”
During his first official trip to the region, Paul, 50, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett. He also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Due to his repeated calls to cut foreign aid, including to Israel, Rand, who was recently appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been under attack by Jewish groups.
“As we’ve said many times before, Senator Paul’s misguided views on aid to Israel are plain wrong and do not reflect the myriad benefits that come from American assistance to Israel,” the president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, David A. Harris, said in a statement.
On Saturday, Paul said his views on foreign aid did not come up in his meetings with Israeli leaders. But he reiterated his position that Washington can no longer afford its current level of support for other governments.
“Our chance of being a productive and a good and supportive friend is better when we’re not bankrupt,” he said, adding that America borrows four billions dollars every day and that the growing debt is a threat to the power’s national security and stability.
Paul said he is supportive of strong US-Israeli ties but likened Washington’s aid to Jerusalem to a father-son relationship. While a father may very much love his 27-year-old son, he might still tell him “to go and get a job.”
Yet Israel should not necessarily the first nation to suffer from a proposed cut in US aid, Paul emphasized. “Those who are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America,’ maybe they could be first in line to receive reductions in foreign aid,” he said. For example, he worries “significantly” about helping Egypt to acquire weapons, since the country is ruled by Islamists, he said. “We give more foreign aid to your neighbors than we give to Israel. I think that creates an arms race.”
Paul also referred to a speech Netanyahu made in 1996 in Congress in which he spoke out in favor of gradually weaning Israel from US aid.