WASHINGTON — Two Democratic presidential contenders said over the weekend they are open to the idea of conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel on the actions of the Israeli government – even if they didn’t go as far as Bernie Sanders.
When asked about withholding aid to Israel if the Israeli government continued building settlements in the West Bank and moving away from a two-state solution, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that “all options are on the table.”
When Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was asked about this issue, he reiterated his position that Israeli annexations in the West Bank could lead to cuts in U.S. security assistance.
As of today, the United States provides Israel $3.8 billion annually as part of an agreement between the two countries that was negotiated and signed by Barack Obama.
The most outspoken Democratic candidate on the Israel-aid issue is Sanders, who has been saying for months that the assistance should be conditioned on a change in Israeli policy. The Vermont senator has said he would “absolutely” be willing to use the aid as leverage in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Over the summer, Sanders said at an event in New Hampshire that Washington should use that leverage “in order to end the racism we have recently seen in Israel.”
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Over the weekend, Warren and Buttigieg didn’t go as far as Sanders. The Massachusetts senator did not specifically mention the aid issue when she made her “all options are on the table” comment. Buttigieg said explicitly that aid could be cut if Israel annexed parts of the West Bank, an event that seems unlikely at the moment given last month’s stalemated Israeli election. Buttigieg made a similar statement in a foreign policy speech in June.
Historically, both Democratic and Republican administrations have promoted and supported aid to Israel. A large chunk of that aid comes back to the United States in the form of Israeli military and defense purchases from American companies.
The last U.S. president who clashed with the Israeli government over economic aid was Republican George H.W. Bush, who wanted the right-wing government of Yitzhak Shamir to commit that American loan guarantees would not be used for building homes in occupied territory. Shamir refused and unsuccessfully tried to get around Bush by securing Congress’ support for the loan guarantees with no Israeli commitment.
Before Israel’s September 17 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that if he won, he would annex parts of the West Bank, something no Israeli prime minister has done.
Buttigieg’s answer over the weekend was that if the Israeli government implemented that promise, “I’m committed to ensuring that the U.S. will not foot the bill for that.”
Overall, Sanders and Warren are considered more critical of Israel than the candidate leading in most polls, former Vice President Joe Biden. During the Democrats’ last debate, the only candidate who mentioned Israel was centrist Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who called Israel a “beacon of democracy” in the Middle East and questioned how President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria would affect the country.