Sen. Rand Paul's visit to Israel was often open to the media, and the things he said surprised some hawks. When asked about the growth of Israel's settlements in the West bank, Paul said they were up to Israel. In the New York Post, Seth Lipsky called that the most supportive statement in favor of the settlements since Sarah Palin.
The settlement issue came up again, in several ways, in a conference call Paul held this afternoon. Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin brought up an Obama quote from around the time the UN voted to upgrade Palestine's status. The president, according to Jeffrey Goldberg said that Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel "doesn’t know what its own best interests are." Did Paul have a response?
"I would say that's an arrogant and presumptuous point of view," said Paul, "and really does not further any kind of progress, to make those kind of points."
Would Paul ask Chuck Hagel if he agreed with the remarks. "Yeah, sure, but I'm not sure if everything has to point necessarily back to Hagel." Paul was undecided on Hagel. "When American politicians presume they know how to bring peace to the Middle East by basically telling Israel or others how to behave, I think they misunderstand the point that nobody can really know as much about security over there, or peace, or stability -- nobody can ever know as much as those who live in that region."
I asked Paul to revisit the settlement question. Had his trip taught him anything that was being incorporated into his new thinking?
"One question is: If I'm the mayor of Jerusalem, or if I'm looking at places in the West Bank and settlements in the West Bank, obviously there's either advisability or inadvisability with regard to ultimately finding places to build, whether it's antagonistic or provacative," said Paul. "Where I distinguish myself, though, is while there might be right or wrong answers to these questions, it's not American politicians' business to be dictating the answers. The answers need to come from the participants who live on the ground in these areas. I think it's just presumptuous and arrogant of us to think, well, we're going to go down to a roadmap of Jerusalem and decide where the neighborhoods can be expanded? It did influence me some that I did see the map of the neighborhoods, and I did see that there are neighborhoods being expanded in the Arab areas as well as the Jewish areas of Jerusalem, but the comments I heard from officials were: What does America want? Do they want there to be a religion test on who's going to buy land? How would we feel in America if land that was designated for development, we said you have to prove what religion you are before you can build on the land? You can see how it's a funny sort of bias we're asking for, how we want them to develop the land."
The point, Paul said, was that Israel faced a certain amount of pressure from the United States because it got so much support from the United States. His position, "the opinion of Netanyahu in 1996," was that Israel would be stronger if it could one day cut the strings. "It's really the presumption of whether we should be dictating to other countries -- even if they are our friends -- whether we should dictate every minute aspect of them building in their country. I think that's wrong. But I think it's also a reason you should want to become more and more independent, and not dependent on aid from the United States. Because then you can develop your sovereignty and be more definitive in the things you want."
But Paul passed on a few chances to criticize America's current relationship with Israel. One reportr asked whether he favored continued funds for the Iron Dome missile defense system. "Exactly how it's funded, or how the money changes hands, I'd have to look into how we do it," he said. "But absolutely I'm in favor of it. Think about on 9/11. There's no reason our White House, our Capitol, and our major cities shouldn't have a missile defense... I argue that there will be irrational actors on the stage. There's no way to stop irrationality from eventually getting weapons into the hands of people who might attack us."
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