Sanders and Warren have also said they'd consider aid cut

Buttigieg: US aid should be used as ‘leverage’ to change Israeli policies

2020 Democratic hopeful says he wouldn’t let Washington ‘foot the bill’ if Jerusalem annexes West Bank settlements

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a gun safety forum Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a gun safety forum Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said over the weekend that he would consider using American military aid to “leverage” Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians.

Speaking at the University of Chicago on Friday, the South Bend mayor indicated that, as president, he would not allow the US to grant the same amount of aid to Israel were it to annex West Bank settlements, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to do.

During a question-and-answer session at the South Side campus, a freshman and activist with the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow asked if the candidate would make aid to Israel contingent upon ending the occupation.

“I think that the aid is leverage to guide Israel in the right direction,” Buttigieg said. “If, for example, there is follow-through on these threats of annexation, I’m committed to ensuring that the US is not footing the bill for that.”

He suggested that pressuring Israel to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution was in its long-term interest of remaining a Jewish democracy.

“It is in the American interest, as well as the Palestinian and ultimately the Israeli Jewish interest, that Israel not reach the point where there will have to be a choice between either being a Jewish state or a democracy,” he said, “and there is a trajectory toward that going on right now.”

Buttigieg, 37, would not vow to reduce US aid to Israel if he were elected, but suggested it was a possibility.

“I’m not going to commit now to all of the ways that that leverage can and should be used, but I will say that our policy goal will be to do what we do when a friend is moving in a way that you’re worried about, which is to put your arm around them and guide them somewhere better,” he said.

Buttigieg’s comments appear to be the latest installment of IfNotNow’s efforts to confront 2020 candidates on their views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

2020 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders with IfNotNow volunteers in New Hampshire on June 29, 2019. (Photo courtesy IfNotNow via JTA)

The left-wing group has been deploying activists throughout the country to pose questions to the candidates while they are on camera or on the stump.

Buttigieg is the third major Democratic presidential candidate to indicate a willingness to cut military aid to Israel.

In a podcast interview in July, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he would “absolutely” mull such cuts. Over the weekend, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said withholding aid to pressure Israel into curbing its West Bank settlement enterprise was “on the table.”

Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg are currently polling at second, third and fourth, respectively, in the Real Clear Politics average.

Sanders and Buttigieg are slated to speak at J Street’s national conference next week — along with other presidential candidates such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and former secretary of housing and urban development Julian Castro.

The confab will mark the first major forum in which the candidates are expected to address their stances on US policy toward Israel.

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