Israel said bracing for likely Omar, Tlaib visit to flashpoint Temple Mount
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Israel said bracing for likely Omar, Tlaib visit to flashpoint Temple Mount

During secret meeting of National Security Council, senior officials agree to allow congresswomen onto holy site, but not accompanied by PA officials

In this photo from February 5, 2019, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, left, is joined by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, at US President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this photo from February 5, 2019, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, left, is joined by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, at US President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Israeli officials are preparing for the likelihood that US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib may seek to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem during their upcoming visit to the country, Channel 13 reported Wednesday.

The timing of the congresswomen’s visit has not yet been confirmed, though Axios reported Wednesday they were expected to arrive Friday.

The Channel 13 report said a “secret meeting” was recently held on the subject at Israel’s National Security Council, led by Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Azar.

There, the network reported that Azar said there was a high probability that Omar and Tlaib, who are both Muslim, will seek to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine at the holy site.

The participants at the meeting agreed that if the congresswomen choose to do so, it is vital that the Israel Police not permit their visit to be accompanied by officials of the Palestinian Authority, which would serve as symbolic backing by the US lawmakers for Palestinian claims of sovereignty at the site, the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and now claims all of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital in a future state.

In 2017 the US, under the Trump administration, shifted years of policy, and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy to the city. However, the US said the move did not constitute and endorsement of specific borders.

Muslim worshipers perform the Eid al-Adha morning prayers at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 11, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israeli officials were unanimous in their view that the two lawmakers, who have expressed support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, should be allowed to visit Israel and the Temple Mount, as preventing the visits could hurt relations with the United States, Channel 13 said.

As recently as Sunday, tensions at the flashpoint site boiled over into all-out riots after Muslim worshippers objected Israel’s allowing of some 1,700 Jewish visitors on the site during the Tish’a B’av fast day, which fell this year during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

At least 61 Muslim worshippers were injured in the clashes, according to the Red Crescent. At least four Israeli officers were also lightly to moderately wounded, police said.

Last month Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said that she would visit Israel and the West Bank with Tlaib, a Palestinian-American congresswoman from Michigan. Omar and Tlaib are the first female Muslim congresswoman.

Last Saturday, Axios reported that US President Donald Trump criticized the Israeli decision to allow Omar and Tlaib to visit the country.

Trump said that if Omar and Tlaib wanted to boycott Israel, “then Israel should boycott them,” Axios said, quoting a source with direct knowledge.

However, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied Trump ever gave any kind of directive to the Israelis. “The Israeli government can do what they want. It’s fake news,” Grisham told Axios on Saturday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president’s guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Last month Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Israel would not prevent the lawmakers from coming to Israel.

“Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer told The Times of Israel in a statement.

Under a controversial law that Israel enacted in 2017, the state can prohibit any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

Since then, the Interior and Strategic Affairs ministries have used the statute to deny visas to a handful of students, activists and artists upon their arrival to Israel.

The Foreign Ministry, however, can recommend the law be waived for visiting politicians or government officials out of diplomatic concerns.

Israeli security forces walk past the Dome of the Rock as they arrive at the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 11, 2019, as clashes broke out during the overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha and the Tisha B’av fast (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Omar last month introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by Tlaib, ostensibly aimed at pushing back against laws seeking to clamp down on boycotts of Israel. The resolution, which does not explicitly mention Israel or the Palestinians, affirms the right of Americans to participate in boycotts as an expression of free speech under the First Amendment, citing boycott movements against Nazi Germany, the USSR and apartheid South Africa.

It currently has three sponsors — Omar, Tlaib and Democratic Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the US civil rights movement.

Omar, Tlaib and other BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to oppose unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel counters that the movement masks its motivation to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

Omar has said she supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Tlaib, however, has advocated for a single-state outcome.

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