Sen. Rand Paul is stepping into the tense Israel-Palestine debate with his latest effort to condition foreign aid on U.S. policy goals – in this case requiring the Palestinian Authority to recognize the state of Israel or lose access to American dollars.
It’s bold but reasonable on its face, and Paul has the backing of key Senate hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), his home state colleague Sen. Mitch McConnell – who is also the top Republican in the Senate – the whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), and the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), among others.
“If we’re going to give money, we should make it contingent on behavior,” Paul said in an exclusive interview with Breitbart News. “And so I think the Palestinian Authority and/or whatever entity is going to come forward out of this should have to recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
In recent months, Paul has come under increasing scrutiny from the hawkish Republican foreign policy establishment that has sought to paint him as out of the mainstream and, by implication, an unfit presidential candidate in the 2016 cycle.
Paul seems aware the spotlight is on him. “The interesting thing is – and this is why I think I’ve been treated unfairly somewhat,” he said, “I’ve probably had 10 different amendments that have been voted on or discussed about foreign aid. Not one of them has been eliminating foreign aid. Every one that I’ve introduced with regard to Egypt or Libya or any of the various nations have all been to say aid should be contingent on behavior.”
In his previous effforts to tie foreign aid to nations like Egypt or Libya to pro-American actions, Paul’s been vilified by Graham, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others. The criticism is that cutting off aid would allow rivals like Russia or China to swoop in to buy the abandoned influence. They’ve framed Paul as an isolationist uninterested in protecting U.S. allies or interests on the global front, with his father’s record in Congress never far from their critique.
Paul thinks the criticism is mainly a knee-jerk reaction to changing the status quo, saying opponents are “just for foreign aid no matter what, by golly.”
He also said his critics are coming around.
“Certain senators who opposed me on Egypt are now coming up to me, other Republican senators, and saying, ‘We ought to do something about Egypt now.’ I say to them, ‘Look, I’ve been trying, believe me,'” he said.
Paul’s philosophy on foreign aid is to use it for leverage in accomplishing U.S. goals, something that he thinks hasn’t been done nearly enough in recent decades.
“Otherwise, you’re just giving people your credit card and not really caring how they spend it or what they do,” Paul said. “So if we’re trying to modulate behavior, let’s by all means try to modulate behavior.”
As it regards the Palestinian Authority, Paul thinks his bill could help begin negotiations over the famously intractable dispute on the right foot.
“I think that’s not the conclusion of negotiations–I think that’s the starting point,” Paul said of Palestinians’ need to formally recognize Israel. “To me that shouldn’t be a sticking point. That’s sort of where you start. Then there’s all the other controversies, and obviously they’ll have to dig out the solution. But with regard to our money, our money I think should be contingent upon that at the very least.”
One notable name missing from the list of the bill’s 12 cosponsors is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Paul’s list of cosponsors came from passing the proposal around at a Senate GOP luncheon, so he may still sign on.
The two have stood alongside each other as conservative warriors in the Senate on a host of issues, but recently feuded after Cruz characterized Paul’s foreign policy views as being on the left, dovish flank of the party in a major speech.
After the speech Paul dropped a scathing op-ed at Breitbart criticizing Cruz by implication, raising the stakes. Cruz soon seemed to realize he had gone too far. In a recent interview, he seemed taken aback that he had prompted a round of second guessing about Paul’s foreign policy and said, “I love Rand.”
Paul said he’s working to convince some Democrats to sponsor his proposal. “I’ve spoken with some Democrats and we have one looking very closely at this right now,” Paul said. “Getting bipartisan cosponsorship, it usually takes one or two prominent ones to break through, and then it has a chance. We’ll see.”
He’s also studying how to force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote on it. “I think this is something that will gather momentum,” he said. “We’ll push it through. We’ll ask to have it go on through at some point, maybe a hotline which means someone would have to object, and we’ll make them come to the floor and see who it is. There’s also a chance this gets enough momentum that it just goes through.”
Paul’s proposal was first reported by the Washington Post, but he had not spoken publicly about it until now.