2020 Democrats

Buttigieg says embassy should stay in Jerusalem

Palestinian ‘right of return’ ‘can be honored in the context of a negotiated peace,’ the South Bend, Indiana mayor tells Axios

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/CNP

Bluelight Founders Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak listen on as Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks with leaders of the Jewish community at a communal parlor meeting at the offices of Bluelight Strategies in Washington D.C., U.S. on May 23, 2019.

In an interview published Sunday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told Axios that he would not relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Tel Aviv if elected president in 2020.

“I think what’s done is done,” Buttigieg acknowledged in an interview with Mike Allen on Axios on HBO. “I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv.”

The 2020 Democratic candidate explained it was a mistake to make the move without getting a concession out of Israel, something that could’ve come as part of a negotiated settlement. Instead, he argued, the Trump administration “gave it away” as a gift to Netanyahu, as well as recognizing Israeli rule over the Golan to have “an impact in Israeli domestic politics.”

The U.S. embassy is currently in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Buttigieg, who outlined his foreign policy views in a speech at Indiana University last week, was also asked about his stance of the refugee issue—the “right of return”—a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I think that concept can be honored in the context of a negotiated peace,” he said, refusing to take a definitive stance on the issue as a presidential candidate.

Mike Allen: Would you move the U.S. embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv?

Pete 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.”

Allen: Do you support a right of return for the Palestinian refugees? That’s of course the principle the Palestinian refugees, or their descendants, have a right to return to the land or property they were forced out of during the 1948 and 1967 wars. … Do you support the right of return?

Buttigieg: “I think that concept can be honored in the context of a negotiated peace. 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.”

Allen: So you would not insist on that?

Buttigieg: “I think it could be honored as part of the framework of a negotiation. I’m not going to declare it at the outset as a precondition for peace.”

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