At first, I didn’t believe it when someone said last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had backtracked on his agreement to let US Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
After all, they are members of Congress and the Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, one of the prime minister’s closest associates, had said, “Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.” Tlaib had also said she wanted to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, and Netanyahu was surely going to be empathetic to that understandable wish.
But on second thought, it was predictable. Netanyahu has built his entire political career based on fanning the flames of fear. The left “has forgotten what it means to be Jews,” ISIS, Iran, BDS, always a new threat, which requires us to be strong, uncompromising and to elect a strong, articulate leader who really knows how to speak good English to the rest of the world. Perhaps Netanyahu didn’t exactly have a good relationship with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but with US President Donald Trump — a conservative like himself — and other nationalist leaders like Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and Jair Bolsonaro, no problem.
Netanyahu is intelligent, well-read and undoubtedly understands that, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said last week at a forum on national security organized by the Council for Peace and Security, “Israel is facing no external existential threat.” After all, Israel has the fourth or fifth strongest army in the world, backed by an estimated 80 to 200 nuclear weapons (according to foreign sources); it has a peace treaty with Jordan and Egypt, its major adversary in three wars; and the Syrian and Iraqi armies have fallen apart, so what’s left: Iran?
As Gadi Eisenkott, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said, to his knowledge, “for the past 1,400 years, the Iranians have never attacked another country.” The Iranians have been attacked many times, most recently by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s, and what they are primarily interested in is defending their regime.
The Arab and Muslim World Is Ready to Accept Israel
And let’s not forget the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, launched at the Arab League Summit in Beirut and since reconfirmed many times, in which all 22 Arab states offer Israel peace and normal relations — embassies and all. This is in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with slight mutual border rectifications that will enable 80% of the Israeli settlers to remain where they are, and a mutually-agreed solution for the Palestinian refugee problem. That means the Israeli government has to agree to the number that will be allowed to return, which will undoubtedly be a small percentage.
The 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have expressed their support for the Arab Peace Initiative. Even Iranian leaders have said repeatedly that they will accept whatever agreement is acceptable to the Palestinians, while the official position of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is to support a two-state solution.
It’s not as if Israel didn’t have enemies. The fact is that the Arab world did not accept the UN Partition Plan in 1947 to establish a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine and attacked the fledgling Israeli state. Egypt and Syria also attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, though that conflict could have been avoided if Prime Minister Golda Meir had responded to Egyptian overtures before violence broke out. In 1991, Saddam fired 42 Scud missiles against Israel when he was attacked by coalition forces led by the US. And there are still those today who would wish that Israel would disappear.
But today there are no enemies threatening the existence of the Israeli state, and the Arab world is ready to accept it as an integral part of the Middle East.
BDS Has Had No Impact on Israel
And the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS)? Maybe it makes activists feel good that they are doing something against the occupation, and perhaps some even think it will help eliminate the state of Israel. Yet ask any Israeli economist and they will say that BDS has had virtually no impact on the Israeli economy or society, and it won’t in the future.
As a former EU ambassador to Israel explained when asked why the European Union and its member countries don’t do more to pressure Israel to end the occupation, his response was that “it won’t happen.” Why? Because Israel has too much to offer, including military intelligence and know-how, knowledge of how to deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, hi-tech expertise, etc.
Tlaib and Omar have expressed support for BDS. They have also recognized Israel’s right to exist, but without the occupation. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. Many Israelis share that view.
Unfortunately, backtracking is not a new Netanyahu trait. He did the same thing when an agreement was reached with the United Nations and third-party countries about a solution to the problem of 37,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrant workers and asylum seekers in April 2018. Less than a day after announcing that a deal had been reached, he changed his mind due to pressure from right-wing activists. This time, he may have canceled the permits for Tlaib and Omar to visit the region under pressure from President Trump, who wants to stain the Democratic Party. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Republican Senator Marco Rubio criticized this undemocratic act
When Netanyahu was reelected in 2009 — after his first term from 1996 to 1999 was acknowledged to be a failure — I really thought there was a chance that, as a historian’s son, with a second chance he might do the right thing and understand that, if he wanted to go down in history, it should be as the one who brought lasting peace and security to the state of Israel. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Tlaib and Omar, You Are Welcome in Israel
Representatives Tlaib and Omar should know that there are many Israelis who are embarrassed and ashamed by Netanyahu’s behavior. They were invited by the Policy Working Group, which consists of about 25 Israeli former diplomats, academics, civil society activists and media professionals, chaired by former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, who resigned when he could no longer defend the official Israeli government policy. The US congresswomen had planned to meet and discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations and how to advance a two-state solution, for the sake of both peoples. Many Israelis, including members of the Knesset, would be happy to meet with them.
On August 16, Professor Tzvia Walden, Shimon Peres’ daughter, opened a morning Sabbath discussion at the Tzavta Club in Tel Aviv with some comments about leadership in connection with the Torah portion of the week that deals with Moses on Mount Nebo, seeing the promised land but realizing that his mission was over.
With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “I realize that this is an election season, and I don’t mean to infer anything political, but leaders should know when it’s time to call it quits.”
*[A version of this article was published on The Times of Israel’s blog.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.