Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar should have been allowed to enter Israel, even if they hate it, and deny its right to exist. Even if they agitate for its destruction which, given the neighborhood, means agitating for the mass murder of Jewish civilians because they are Jewish. Even if, though of course this is simply unthinkable in both cases, they hate Jews in general. And even though, instead of joining last week’s 72-strong bipartisan congressional delegation, which bipartisanned its way optimistically around meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders of various parties, they instead set up their own visit with the globally renowned and seriously named Humpty Dumpty Institute, so they could malign Israel as much as they possibly could.
If the Israelis had taken the initiative and blocked the visit, they would have insulted the dignity of Congress, and certainly all of its Democrats, regardless of whether they have dignity or not. It’s never a good idea to poke some of your closest ally’s elected representatives in the eye. Benjamin Netanyahu did this in 2015 when, invited by Republicans to address Congress, he denounced President Obama’s insistence on coming to a deal with Iran at any costs. Obama paid Netanyahu back in the last weeks of 2016, by abstaining at the UN and allowing the Security Council pass Resolution 2334, demanding an end to Israeli settlements.
The costs to Israel of banning Tlaib and Omar are obvious — especially banning Tlaib, the child of emigrants from the British Mandate who has relatives living under Palestinian Authority control in the West Bank. Admitting two of Israel’s most prominent American enemies could have benefitted Israel in the war of images. Letting Tlaib and Omar into Israel would have deprived them of a new victim narrative, while making Israel look tolerant and friendly. Refusing them entry makes Israel look censorious, brittle and tyrannical. Refusing them entry because the American president asks makes Israel look even weaker, and ready to jump as soon as its American master whistles.
So why is Netanyahu willing to antagonize the Democrats once more? Because Trump asked him, and because Trump the transactional president is dangling a big deal before Netanyahu. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, had said that Tlaib and Omar would be admitted ‘out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America’. But then Trump tweeted on Thursday that it ‘would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be done to change their minds… They are a disgrace!’
And what is the transaction? The Israeli government’s official reason for the banning is Tlaib and Omar’s suspected intent to provoke an Israeli reaction and to promote BDS, the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Recent events show that BDS seems to bother Congress more than it bothers the Knesset. On July 27, the House approved a non-binding resolution against BDS by 398-17. The day before, Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and John Lewis had sponsored a resolution endorsing boycotts that included the cruel perversion of citing the boycott of Nazi Germany as a precedent for boycotting Israel.
On Tuesday, 21 of Israel’s 100 Knesset members sent a letter to Congress, expressing their gratitude to their ‘wonderful friends’ for their wonderful anti-BDS resolution, but complaining that the resolution had also endorsed the ‘two-state solution’. A Palestinian state, the Israeli parliamentarians wrote, would be a ‘dysfunctional terrorist state’, and ‘far more dangerous to Israel’ than BDS. As ‘support for establishing a Palestinian state is so dangerous’ to Israel, the signatories wrote, they ‘respectfully request that you take that into consideration’ in future. The letter’s signatories included Israel’s deputy foreign minster Tzipi Livni and deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan.
So the transaction here isn’t really about BDS. It’s about real estate, and what happens now in the West Bank, which was called Judea and Samaria for more than two thousand years and, if this week’s rumors are to be believed, is quite possibly about to revert to that name. Netanyahu has dodged back and forth on annexing Jewish settlements over the Green Line, the 1949 ceasefire line that now only exists on maps. In 2018, he blocked a bill from his right for annexation. Last April, two days before the elections, he announced that he would extend Israeli sovereignty into unspecified parts of the West Bank if he won, and that wanted to do this with American support. He also repeated that he would never divide Jerusalem, and that any Palestinian state would ‘endanger our existence’.
Returning almost immediately to the campaign trail after failing to form a government, and pocketing the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on its side of the Golan Heights, in late July Netanyahu told settlers at Efrat, near Bethlehem, that ‘no settlement or settler will be uprooted. That is over. What you are doing are to remain forever.’
Earlier this week, the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu, now campaigning for September’s election re-run, is seeking Trump’s public support for endorsing Israel’s annexation of settlements in the West Bank. The Times of Israel quoted unnamed officials in Netanyahu’s office as ‘confident’ that Trump will grant this pre-election gift to Netanyahu. As transactions go, banning Omar and Tlaib, and antagonizing the already anti-Israel left of the Democrats, is a bargain for Netanyahu when he considers the domestic and territorial dividends. It also allows him to do Trump a favor as he limbers up for the 2020 campaign, by reminding Americans that moderate Democrats are prepared to sit with anti-American loons like Tlaib and Omar.
This transaction puts Netanyahu even further into debt with Trump. And the biggest transaction of all remains in the offing: the ‘deal of the century’ that finally resolves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The more Netanyahu gets now, the more Trump can call upon when it’s time to collect. But that time may never come. The Palestinians are divided and despairing, and Mahmoud Abbas refuses even to speak to American diplomats. Israel is in favor in the White House, and its ties with the Sunni Arab states are warming.
The resolution of the conflict into two states has never seemed further away. The resolution into one state seems ever more likely. How ironic that Tlaib and Omar, as pawns in the Trump-Netanyahu transaction, have helped Israel’s territorial expansion and Trump’s campaign for re-election.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.