In all likelihood, very few Israelis probably know who Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar is. But a few weeks ago, in the lead-up to the Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the freshman congresswoman quite directly. At a American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, he told an audience to “take it from this Benjamin, its not all about the Benjamins.” It was a reference to Omar’s claim that American support for Israel is bought and paid for by Jews.
Netanyahu would go on to explain that “The reason…is not because they want our money. It’s because they share our values; It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. It’s because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law.”
The direct swipe at Omar was likely more intended for Jewish American audiences than those back in Israel, but it was a telling and important moment nonetheless. Something very profound has changed in regard to American-Israeli relations. Where there was once strong bipartisan support for Israel in the United States, there is now a Democratic Party loosening its ties to our greatest Middle Eastern ally. Omar, who appeared this week on the cover of Newsweek magazine, is the face of this change.
At the same time Omar has led Democrats away from support for Israel, the Republican Party under Donald Trump’s leadership has taken stunning steps to defend the Jewish state. It began with the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, a congressionally mandated action that presidents of both parties had promised but never acted on. The support has continued, most recently with American recognition that Israel rightfully controls the Golan Heights.
The Trump administration has been sending a very clear signal to the Palestinians that they can lose the stalemate that the Obama administration’s inaction created. The stalemate had been playing pretty well for the Palestinians. Support for their positions grew in Europe and the United Kingdom and, most importantly, in the United States, Democrats started to drift away from support for Netanyahu’s Israel.
The actions of the Trump administration are signaling to the Palestinians that they can’t just wait it out until the world comes around to their side. Instead, they will face meaningful diplomatic consequences as long as they refuse to negotiate and continue to attack Israel. That is the backdrop Trump created for the appearance of Omar and the newly anti-Israeli Democratic Party.
For many voters in Israel, this is clearly a disturbing development. The support of the United States is the most essential foreign alliance that the world’s only Jewish state has. If Netanyahu seems joined at the hip with Trump, this is why. Once again, for a record fifth time, the prime minister educated just outside Philadelphia was reelected on a platform of force, one that demands concessions to the Palestinians only be made if met with good faith and actions on their part.
However, Netanyahu’s victory and the Trump administration’s current power do not mean that Omar and the anti-Israel Democrats will ultimately lose this fight. That is why the next two years are vital for Israel, Palestinians, the wider Middle East, and the United States. A rumored deal involving the Saudis is apparently soon to be forthcoming at the behest of Jared Kushner, but will Palestinians be chastened by Trump’s aggressive actions and Netanyahu’s unprecedented victory? Or will they dig in, hoping that one of the Democratic candidates who refused to attend AIPAC’s gathering becomes America’s next commander in chief?
For now, that is the vital question. Israel’s voters have once again affirmed Netanyahu’s hard line and by extension the bold policies of the Trump administration. Will this bring the Palestinians to the table for good-faith negotiations, or will they continue to play a waiting game, hoping that Omar and the Justice Democrats can turn Americans against Israel?
Only time will tell, but just as Trump and Omar had their effects on the Israeli election, so may the Israeli and Palestinian situation have effects on our own. As the Russian collusion farce fades into memory, the actual context of the 2020 presidential election is coming into focus. Trump and Netanyahu have a unique opportunity to pursue a lasting peace.
Waiting in the wings is a new Democratic Party that has the knives out for Israel. The time to act is now. And for both the United States and Israel, everything hangs in the balance.