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Exclusive: Mayor Pete won't reverse Trump's Jerusalem move

Surging 2020 Democrat and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg tells "Axios on HBO" he wouldn't move the U.S. embassy in Israel back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv if elected president: "I don't know that we'd gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv."

Why it matters: Many prominent Democrats excoriated President Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. They said it would inflame the region and ruin chances for peace between the Palestinians and Israel. It's telling that a prominent 2020 Democrat, when pressed on the issue, wouldn't reverse Trump's decision.

Transcript

"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."

Pete Buttigieg: "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."

"Axios on HBO:" "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?"

Pete 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."

"Axios on HBO:" "So you would not insist on that?"

Pete 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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