Democrat Buttigieg warns he would cut Israel aid over West Bank annexation
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Democrat Buttigieg warns he would cut Israel aid over West Bank annexation

In first major foreign policy address, presidential candidate condemns ‘increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace’

Democratic US presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner, on June 9, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)
Democratic US presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner, on June 9, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg pledged Tuesday that the annexation of West Bank settlements by Israel would be met with cuts in American aid to the Jewish state, should he be elected US president in 2020.

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor, a popular dark horse for the Democratic nomination, also voiced concern about “increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace.”

“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,” said Buttigieg.

He made the comments at a speech in Bloomington, Indiana, outlining for the first time his major foreign policy objectives.

“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 promise 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,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left and US Ambassador David Friedman, right, attend a ceremony in Jerusalem, May 21, 2017. (Abir Sultan/ Pool Photo via AP)

Netanyahu pledged ahead of April’s elections to begin annexing West Bank settlements. After failing to build a governing coalition, he now faces new elections in September.

Buttigieg spoke days after US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told The New York Times: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Following an outpouring of criticism by the Palestinians, an American official said Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, nor is any such plan under discussion with the US.

“No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the US, nor is it under discussion,” a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. Israel’s Channel 12 indicated the official was from the US State Department.

The Trump administration will begin rolling out its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan later this month, with an economic conference in Bahrain that is being boycotted by the Palestinians. The contours of the plan, including whether it includes eventual statehood for the Palestinians, remain murky.

A view of houses in the Etzion bloc settlement of Efrat on November 27, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In his speech, Buttigieg said US leaders must uphold their values in their relationships with other countries, “not only with our adversaries but with our allies.”

“Just as an American patriot may oppose the policies of an American president, a supporter of Israel may also oppose the policies of an Israeli right-wing government,” he said. “Especially when we see increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace.”

“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 37-year-old Afghanistan veteran has in the past made some highly supportive — and nuanced — statements on the Jewish state and its conflict with the Palestinians.

Last year, he visited Israel with a group of US mayors and appeared on the American Jewish Committee’s podcast afterward to discuss the trip, which he said helped him understand the country beyond what he reads in media headlines.

“You only see what’s maybe going on with the prime minister and the Palestinian Authority and you’re not seeing nearly enough I think about the energy, the dynamism, the creativity, the innovation that’s happening at the local level and how some of that is also feeding up to the national context in a positive way,” he said.

Buttigieg has spoken in support of the two-state solution and lambasted Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to annex West Bank settlements in April.

“This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian and American interests,” he tweeted at the time. “Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu’s politics. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution.”

Eric Cortellessa and agencies contributed to this report.

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