The relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, one of President Donald Trump’s signature foreign policy accomplishments, may be here to stay regardless of the results of the 2020 presidential election.
That is the impression created by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who told Axios on Sunday that he would not withdraw the embassy from Israel’s capital, even if he disagreed with the Trump administration about how the decision was made.
The exchange with Axios was as follows:
“Axios on HBO:” “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 —”
“Axios on HBO:” “So you would leave it?”
Pete 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 — ”
“Axios on HBO:” “So President Trump did the right thing?”
Pete Buttigieg: “I didn’t say that.”
“Axios on HBO:” “Well you did — you wouldn’t undo it.”
Pete 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.”
Notably, Buttigieg did not say that the embassy move should have happened in the context of negotiations with the Palestinians, but that it should have been done in exchange for Israeli concessions. Successive U.S. presidents, from Bill Clinton forward, have promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem in accordance with congressional legislation — which is not conditional on any concessions from the Israelis or even the agreement of the Palestinian Authority.
Not one elected Democrat attended the opening of the new U.S. embassy last May, or the part thrown by the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, to celebrate the occasion. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said he would undo the move.
Buttigieg also criticized President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights: even though it may have been a matter of “legitimate security interests,” he argued, Israel should have had to sacrifice something for them.
The idea that not forcing the Israelis to make concessions, in the face of Palestinian terror and threats from Iran, might have independently been good for the strength of the United States in the region, seems not to have occurred to him.
Buttigieg said that he would consider a Palestinian “right to return” but also “in the context of a negotiated peace.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.