Paul, who generally opposes all foreign aid, has softened his stance a bit in regard to Israel, which he plans to visit for the first time this spring. He said his earlier calls to end aid to Israel were misinterpreted and were simply part of a larger focus on fiscal restraint.
He also said in that earlier interview that Israel’s strong economy and relative wealth also made U.S. aid unnecessary. “I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”
Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid, has received $3 billion annually in military aid ever since it signed its peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. In recent years, the United States also has spent about $1 billion to help fund several Israeli anti-missile systems, such as Iron Dome.
On Tuesday, Paul said he was visiting Israel to familiarize himself with Middle Eastern affairs. He said he would meet with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“I want to know more about the discussions, the debate, whether or not I could be any part of moving the debate towards peace or some kind of solution,” he said.
But Paul took pains to avoid ruffling any Israeli feathers over its recent decision to build Jewish settlements in a sensitive area east of Jerusalem that would effectively divide the West Bank in half and cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territory.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for the United States to dictate to Israel where their settlements should be,” he said. “Israel’s a sovereign nation. One of the mistakes we make is thinking because we give them money, we can tell them what to do. I think we should respect Israel’s sovereignty to make their own decisions.”