In a June 16 interview with Axios on HBO, South Bend Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said he’d keep the US embassy in Jerusalem if he was elected. The comments came just one week after Buttigieg publicly denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex sections of the West Bank and said there were signs that Israel’s government was “turning away from peace.”
In December 2017, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that generated protests and criticism throughout the world. Prime Minister Netanyahu celebrated the decision, referring to Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark.” In May 2018, the U.S. government moved its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No other country has one in the city, as the international community does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the entire area.
When asked by Axios Executive Editor Mike Allen whether he’d move the embassy back to Tel Aviv or not, Buttigieg said “what’s done is done” and made it clear that his main problem with the embassy move was that the Trump administration did not secure any concessions from Israel before going through with it. He also reiterated the fact that Israel should be considered a “string ally” by the U.S. government.
Allen: Would you move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv?
Buttigieg: I think what’s done is done and I don’t think the Israelis believe that the U.S. needs to —
Allen: So you would leave it?
Buttigieg: Look, we need a big-picture strategy on the Middle East. I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv. I will say —
Allen: So President Trump did the right thing?
Buttigieg: I didn’t say that.
Allen: Well you did — you wouldn’t undo it.
Buttigieg: That doesn’t mean he did the right thing. Here’s the problem with what he did … [I]f you’re going to make a concession like that, if you’re going to give somebody something that they’ve wanted for a long time in the context of a push-pull, even with a strong ally like Israel, right? We have a push-pull relationship. And you don’t do that without getting some kind of concession. Instead, we’ve seen the Israeli government continue to act in ways that are detrimental to peace. And I believe, therefore, also detrimental to U.S. interests.
It’s the same thing with recognition of the Golan. Look, the Israeli claims in the Golan or not something to be ignored. They have a lot to do with legitimate security interests. But when we did that, we were doing something that could have been part of a negotiated package, and instead we just gave it away. Worse, we gave it away probably for the specific purpose of having an impact in Israeli domestic politics, which should be the last reason that we would be conducting U.S. foreign policy. It should be designed around American values, American interests and American international relationships.
In a June 11 speech he gave in Bloomington, Indiana, Buttigieg said he’d block U.S. taxpayer funds from being used by Israel to annex the West Bank and implied that the right-wing Netanyahu government should be opposed.
“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,” said Buttigieg. “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.”
In the Axios interview, Buttigieg was also asked about the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. “I think that concept can be honored in the context of a negotiated peace,” said the South Bend Mayor. “I don’t think it should be presumptively declared by a U.S. presidential candidate. I’m concerned, though, that we’re walking away from the possibility of peace, when you have the Israeli government talking about annexing parts of the West Bank.”