Change Region:New Zealand

Headlines

A Second Look at the Israel-UAE Peace Deal

Hard on the heels of last week’s diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just concluded a swing through the region to try to get other Arab nations to quickly join the “Abraham Accord” by agreeing to normalize relations with the Jewish state. While his junket did not bear much immediate fruit, it is clear that a number of former enemies in the region are warming up to Israel, in part due to the looming Iranian threat but also because of cultural changes occurring within Sunni Arab societies.

In last Friday’s Commentary [Is the Israel-UAE Pact a Real Breakthrough for the Region?], we began laying out the pros and cons and the underlying reasons for the UAE’s decision to break from the pack and openly embrace direct relations with Israel. It is an historic development, as the Emirates have become only the third Arab state to establish formal ties with Israel – after Egypt and Jordan. We also looked at why the UAE in particular took this bold step, and who might be next? Here are some more thoughts on this important development in the Middle East.

To understand why the United Arab Emirates has made peace with Israel, one only needs to look at a map of the region. The UAE is located only 22 miles across the water from Iran and thus it feels very vulnerable to Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. In light of this threat, they put in a request with the Pentagon six years ago to purchase several of the new F35 advanced stealth aircraft, and making peace with Israel significantly raises the odds of that being approved. It is likely that Israel will not be able to totally block that sale, but they could then expect to be compensated with other advanced military hardware and technology to help maintain its qualitative edge over other militaries in the region.

Second, the native-born citizens of the UAE only comprise 11% of the total population in their own country. The oil-rich nation has imported workers from some 200 nations, including large contingents from India and the Philippines, many of whom practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. So unlike most Arab and Muslim-majority states, the Emiratis have had to become very tolerant in allowing these guests to practice their own faiths. Thus, there are many churches and even several synagogues to serve the growing Jewish community in the UAE.

In fact, last year the UAE welcomed the Pope to Abu Dhabi, where he performed a large public mass for tens of thousands of Catholics in the country. Styling 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance,” the emirs also approved plans for the Abrahamic Family House, a unique and grand complex which will contain a mosque, church and synagogue all living in harmony. The concept came from an interfaith clerical group called the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, and thus it seems the UAE is now very ecumenical minded.

The UAE is also seeking to diversify its economy away from oil exports and over into hi-tech, which would make it a natural partner with Israel. Finally, the Emirates have touted Dubai and Abu Dhabi as opulent hubs connecting East and West in the emerging global community, and continuing to irrationality hate Israel does not mesh with the futurist image it is trying to project.

But what other Arab states might be next in line to make peace with Israel?

Secretary Pompeo visited several of the most likely candidates in his trip through the region this week, including Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman. Although he returned home without another diplomatic trophy to help with President Donald Trump’s re-election effort, there is reason for hope that progress will come soon enough.

Oman seems most likely to be the next Arab nation to join the peace camp with Israel. They were the earliest and most vocal in their praise of the deal made by their immediate neighbor. And Oman has hosted three sitting Israeli prime ministers over recent decades, going back to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the 1990s, and Benjamin Netanyahu more recently. They also have extensive trade relations and other interactions with Israel. But they are holding back for now, perhaps to see what the UAE gets out of their deal or whether Trump will get re-elected.

Bahrain also is seen as a prime candidate, but it is somewhat constrained by its delicate internal political situation at present, as the ruling Sunni Arabs are a minority in their own country, facing unrest from the Shi’ite majority – both Arabs and Persians – who are open to Iranian influence. During the Arab Spring uprisings several years ago, the Shi’ites staged mass protests against the Bahraini king, forcing the Saudis to march troops across the 16-mile long causeway to the island nation to save him from being overthrown.

Saudi Arabia is certainly starting to open up more to the world, and they have developed their own quiet ties with Israel. But as guardians of the holy city of Mecca and of mainstream Sunni traditions, the ruling family will move slowly on both tracks. But glacial changes indeed are taking place. The younger Saudi generation, as reflected by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have access to the Internet and are more open to Western influences. They can now go see movies, which was forbidden just two or three years ago. Women can now drive, travel without chaperones, and attend sporting events. Regarding Israel, there also are signs of warming relations. For instance, the Saudis are now letting Israeli commercial flights to cross over their territory on the way to India. But it will take time, and for now the Saudis are still sticking with the Arab peace initiative they launched in 2002, which requires a Palestinian state before normalization with Riyadh.

Sudan also has been sending out signals of an interest in reconciling with Israel, but the nation is still in the midst of a fragile transition away from a radical Muslim dictatorship and many anti-Israel elements remain in the transitional council. Further, the overtures to Israel appear to be almost exclusively motivated by a desire to reap rewards from Washington, including debt and sanctions relief.

Finally, Secretary Pompeo made a stop in Morocco in hopes of coaxing its monarchy to close a deal with Israel. Morocco was once home to a large Jewish community which contributed much to the country, and that heritage still enjoys some measure of respect there. Morocco has hosted Israeli leaders and exhibited less hostility towards Israel than most members of the Arab League. But it also has its share of Islamic rejectionists – like the current prime minister, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement now led by Turkey. Some analysts also are saying Rabat is perhaps looking for the US and Israel to recognize its claim to the Western Sahara as part of any deal with Jerusalem.

Meantime, one also has to take into account the stiff opposition to the Israeli-UAE normalization pact being raised by Turkey and Iran, as well as by the Palestinians themselves. They are pulling out all the stops to deter anyone else from making peace with Israel.

Progress towards peace between Israel and the Arab world is never easy. But the Trump team has managed an historic breakthrough and more incremental advances can be expected. But it will take President Trump being returned to office in November for the current diplomatic momentum to be sustained.

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Is the Israel-UAE Pact a Real Breakthrough for the Region?

Just as the Oslo Accords suddenly sprang from the Norwegian woods back in 1993, last week’s news of a breakthrough in relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates caught everyone by surprise. The region’s attention quickly swung from the fallout of the massive blast in Lebanon to the possibilities of a seismic shift in Israel’s relations with a host of hostile states throughout the Middle East and beyond. Even in Israel, the rancorous ‘black flag’ protests to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instantly lost steam.

Many hailed the announced deal as a welcome return to the “peace for peace” formula preferred by the Israeli Right, in that Israel was not being asked to concede anything to the UAE in exchange for normalization of relations with the Jewish state. Others cautioned that there indeed might be a quid quo pro, as reports surfaced that, as part of the deal, Israel had agreed for the US Administration to sell the latest F-35 stealth aircraft to the UAE – a move which could seriously undercut the IDF’s qualitative edge over any potential array of foes in the region.

As the truth about the F-35s shakes out, there is no doubt that the so-called “Abrahamic Accord” is a big deal. The Emirates have now become the third Arab state to break from the pack and begin to open formal relations with Israel. Like Egypt and Jordan before them, the UAE rulers will not let the future of their nation and the entire region be held hostage to the unyielding Palestinian nationalist cause. Given the current climate, several other Sunni Arab states could rapidly fall in line behind the UAE in forging peace agreements with Israel.

But why has the UAE gone first? Part of the answer is that the country’s rulers are very forward-looking and want to diversify away from oil dependency and into hi-tech – and what better partner for that than Israel. The Emirati rulers also aspire to be part of the globalization process, pitching Dubai and Abu Dhabi as key hubs for connecting people in the promising new future ahead. They also appear to be very ecumenical minded, wanting to promote tolerance and respect in particular between the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In addition, there seems to be an emerging stream of Muslim Zionists in the Arabian Gulf – those who believe the series of Koranic passages which affirm that the Land of Israel was promised by Allah to the Jews.

Some of these reasons may give many Christians pause. Globalization? Ecumenicism? Muslim Zionism? And aren’t the native Emiratis just 11 percent of the overall population in their own country? We will address these concerns further in coming weeks. But for now, it is quite encouraging for those of us who care about Israel to focus on the enormous potential of this deal.

For starters, Israeli hi-tech companies will now be able to attract investments from not only rich Arab oil sheikhs, but also from the sovereign wealth funds of the UAE, estimated to be worth over $1 trillion dollars. Israelis also will now be able to shop and dine in the luxurious malls and hotel complexes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In addition, there already are rumblings of diplomatic breakthroughs with several other Sunni Arab states, such as Oman, Bahrain and even Morocco. Sudan also is exploring normalization with Israel, after decades of siding with Iran and hosting radical Palestinian and Islamic terror militias on its soil. There also could be a knock-on effect throughout the rest of the world, as many other nations will begin to question why they must maintain a hostile posture towards Israel if so many Arab countries are befriending the Jewish state.

No doubt, US President Donald Trump and his foreign policy team have sprung a real coup for Israel and for all peace-loving nations. Reviled by so many at home and abroad, Trump deserves credit for a breakthrough that supposed ‘peacemakers’ like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama lacked the vision, energy and ability to attain. This also makes Trump’s re-election in November even more critical now for Israel and its emerging Arab peace partners

Not only would Trump and his team be able to continue the momentum of this breakthrough, and spread it to other Arab capitals. They also could continue to uphold a major pillar of the current diplomatic shift in the region – which is that the Sunni Arab bloc has come to trust President Trump when it comes to confronting Iran. He has proven that he is serious about challenging the militant clerical regime in Tehran over its renegade quest for nuclear weapons and its export of terror, weapons and chaos throughout the region.

That is a huge departure from the policies of appeasement toward Iran employed by the previous Administration, which included Vice President Joe Biden. Under Obama/Biden, the Sunni Arab states felt abandoned. Now with Trump they have a sense of reassurance, even to the point of coming out openly about their warming relations with Israel. And let’s not forget how Israelis felt when the Obama team (with no objection from Biden) gave Israel one last parting shot by orchestrating the passage of UN Security Council resolution 2334.

By contrast, a Trump re-election could have many other positive impacts for Israel. For some reason, Trump has not had the international coattails one would expect, since he is actually admired by many national leaders abroad. Yet many nations have held back on following his lead in moving their embassies to Jerusalem, or in recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. This is due in large part to the widespread animosity towards him in the media and concerns he may only be a one-term president. Yet if he wins a second term, I expect many other nations to finally give Jerusalem the respect it deserves and place their embassies in the city. They also may join Trump in recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory, and even change their stance on the legality of the settlements in Judea/Samaria, as Trump did. Time will tell!

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Blame for the Beirut Mega-Blast

As if Lebanon did not have enough troubles already, this week’s massive explosion in the Beirut port rocked that city with such a sudden and overpowering fury, the whole world stopped and stared in great sympathy and awe. As the dust cloud settles and the embattled Lebanese try to recover from this crushing blow, the search also begins to find those responsible for this immense tragedy. Among other culprits, the trail undoubtedly leads to Hizbullah. But in this process, let us not forget all those ‘experts’ who have long urged Western leaders to appease and engage with ruthless Islamist terror militias, even though they have no business ruling over anyone’s lives.

Another Crater to Crawl out of
Lebanese authorities have quickly pieced together that a welding accident apparently set off fireworks stashed in a warehouse along the Beirut docks, which then ignited 2,750 tons of the highly combustible fertilizer ammonium nitrate perilously stored in an adjoining warehouse. The result was the largest conventional explosion in modern times, which killed at least 135 people, injured about 5,000 others, displaced some 300,000 from their homes, and shook or shattered everything within several kilometers of the blast.

Wednesday’s disaster comes as Lebanon was already in the throes of its worst-ever economic collapse, with the lira currency losing 80% of its value. The nation’s financial ruin was well underway long before the Corona pandemic hit the country, and most analysts blame Hizbullah for siphoning off the country’s resources to fuel its campaign to destroy Israel and its military adventures in Syria.

A new report released this week by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies calculates that it will take $93 billion to bail Lebanon out of the staggering debts that have piled up due to Hizbullah’s malfeasance. And that was before this week’s explosion blew a huge crater in the middle of Beirut’s busy port and leveled just about everything within a thousand-meter radius. It will now take an estimated $15 billion more to rebuild the gateway of Lebanon’s economy.

Just as with the economic tailspin, blame for the Beirut blast goes back to Hizbullah. They are in ‘unofficial control’ of the port area. Nothing goes in or out of the country without their approval and profiteering, and that includes all the narcotics exports from the Bekaa Valley. Whatever the origin of the ammonium nitrate shipment compounded six years ago in the port warehouse, Hizbullah leaders knew of its lethal potency (see video below) and were likely holding it in storage for use against Israel.

 

The fact that they were keeping nearly 3,000 tons of a highly incendiary material in a busy urban area did not seem to bother Hizbullah. For decades, they have hidden caches of rockets and other munitions in the middle of every town and village in south Lebanon.

So how did the cruel, callous leaders of Hizbullah gain such a stranglehold over Lebanon and why did we allow them to do so?

Lords of Lebanon
Hizbullah arose in the early 1980s as a rival to Amal. Both were Iranian-backed anti-Israel militias who competed for popularity among the Lebanese Shi’ite community in Beirut and the southern border area. Amal eventually dropped its terror militia and went wholly political. In the early 1990s, Hizbullah also entered politics. Like Hamas in the Palestinian arena, Hizbullah won a broad following by providing social services to the poor, which gave them a political base to run for parliament, yet all the while retaining their heavily armed militia.

In time, Hizbullah’s militia became as strong as Lebanon’s armed forces, which gave them political clout over Lebanese affairs far beyond their small faction in parliament. Besides the steady financial support from the Ayatollahs in Tehran, the minority Alawite rulers in Syria also helped bolster Hizbullah’s standing in Lebanon for its own purposes.

But the Assad regime went a step too far, working with Hizbullah to assassinate the Saudi-backed prime minister Rafik Hariri in a roadside blast in 2005. The Maronite Christians and Sunni Arabs had enough and bravely took to the streets in the ‘Cedar Revolution’, which – aided by Western pressure – managed to chase the Syrian overlords from their country.

But Hizbullah has remained, deeply embedded among the Shi’ites of Lebanon, who make up roughly one-third of the population. And Iran – with Syrian help – has built up Hizbullah into a regional military power now armed with over 150,000 rockets and missiles – far more than the militaries of all but a handful of countries. As a consequence, Hizbullah has effectively been granted veto power over Lebanese government decisions, which is actually written into the Doha truce agreement of May 2008.

Yet after fifteen years of basically calling the shots in Lebanon, all in the interest of a foreign power (Iran), even many Shi’ites are starting to complain about the way Hizbullah has bankrupted the nation and sent their sons off to die in the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah – once seen as a hero in the Arab world – is now openly mocked by Arab leaders and media for always hiding in his bunker.

The ‘Myth’ of Two Wings
What is often ignored about the steady rise of Hizbullah is the way many Western leaders listened to the bad advice of certain ‘experts’ on Islamist groups who advocated that we could engage with such thugs and trust them to moderate once in power.

One notorious example is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who served as senior Middle East advisor to EU Foreign Secretary Javier Solana from 1997 to 2003, critical years for the emergence of both Hizbullah and Hamas. Crooke was an especially key player behind-the-scenes during the second (armed) Palestinian intifada, when he helped negotiate a resolution to the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as well as several short-lived tahdiya (calms) between Israel and Hamas. He also was a leading advocate for Europe and the US to allow Hamas to run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in early 2006.

Because of his prior experience as an MI6 agent in making discreet contacts with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA militia, which helped bring progress in peace talks in Northern Ireland, Crooke began projecting a similar dichotomy on the Islamist terror militias in the Middle East. Crooke argued that Hamas and Hizbullah were not implacable terrorists but “resistance fighters” who were seeking answers to the region’s problems through traditional religious values, rather than Western secularism. He contended that including such groups in the political process would lead to their moderation as they began sharing the responsibilities of governance.

The problem was that Hamas won the 2006 election by a stunning landslide over Fatah, giving them legitimacy and power without the need for compromise. Their war against Israel could go on, even if it meant the Palestinian people must suffer. [Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin once dismissed the ‘myth’ of his movement having two wings, insisting: “We cannot separate the wing from the body. If we do so, the body will not be able to fly. Hamas is one body.”]

Crooke gave similar flawed advice about Hizbullah. Following his rationale, European states, among others, made a distinction between the political and military wings of Hizbullah and Hamas, shunning or banning the militias while accepting and engaging with the political leaderships of both groups. In doing so, they ignored that the whole raison d’etre of both Hamas and Hizbullah was to destroy Israel and impose Islamofascist regimes on their own peoples.

It has taken years for some European and other Western nations to begin to realize the folly of this policy. Only in recent months has Germany finally banned all Hizbullah activities on its soil, although Berlin still allows official engagement with its slate of members in Lebanon’s parliament.

Perhaps the Beirut mega-blast this week will finally awaken Western leaders to the reality that Hizbullah will never moderate, they will never stop hating Israel, they will never be responsible partners in governance, and they will never care for their fellow countrymen – including even their own Shi’ite community. For the sake of all the hurting, peace-loving Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Druze of Lebanon, it is time to start rooting them out.

 

 

David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Lincoln and the ‘unfinished work’ of racial equality

When I was researching for my book “Floodgates” several years ago, I became fascinated by the life and beliefs of Abraham Lincoln in relation to Charles Darwin and their comparative views on God and mankind. Lincoln is a towering figure in world history most remembered for emancipating black slaves in America, and like his contemporary Darwin, his true religious views are vigorously debated to this day. And I believe the world would do well to remember Lincoln’s words and actions concerning the equality of man as we wrestle with the heated racial tensions now plaguing an America and world also beset by a global pandemic.

Darwin published his book Origin of Species in 1859, on the eve of the American Civil War. Though some have framed that great conflict as a battle over states’ rights and other issues, President Lincoln rightly boiled it down to a struggle over the equality of man as a creation of God. This makes the Civil War unique from all other conflicts in human history, and the man who presided over the nation during that grueling fight is equally unique.

It was a time when Darwin and others began using his evolutionary theory to question the divine origin of man. Lincoln read these works, was drawn to them intellectually, but in the crucible of the “War Between the States,” he came out retaining his belief in a God who made all men equal. He also firmly believed that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and they are still in the earth today.

Lincoln’s worldview
The long, swirling debate among scholars and biographers concerning Abraham Lincoln’s religious beliefs come in part because he kept them private as a matter of principle. This debate was already raging during his lifetime, as on several occasions Lincoln even considered bringing libel suits to stem rumors he had denied Christian beliefs. Today, Lincoln remains such a monumental figure that Christians and atheists alike claim him as one of their own. Thus, some portray him as a skeptic or an iconoclast who rejected the established Christian views of his day, while others depict him as a deeply spiritual man who was given over to much prayer and was fully cognizant of Divine Providence over human affairs.

Lincoln biographer Fred Kaplan notes three distinguishing characteristics about the 16th president of the United States. First, Kaplan lists Lincoln, along with Thomas Jefferson, as the greatest intellectual president in American history, whose every written or spoken word was composed by him alone Self-educated, Lincoln read profusely on an array of subjects.

Second, as a young man Lincoln first learned to read by candlelight from the Bible, a book which impacted him deeply for the rest of his life. Kaplan recounts that in Lincoln’s day the Bible “was given full currency as the source of the dominant belief system. It was also the great book of illustrative stories, illuminating references, and pithy maxims for everyday conduct. More than any other glue, it held the society together.”

Third, nearly everyone who knew Lincoln came to see him as a very decent and honest man. As a young lawyer, his clients took to calling him “Honest Abe” as a compliment to how he was always fair and deserving of trust. Accordingly, Kaplan notes that Lincoln “was also the last president whose character and standards in the use of language avoided the distortions and other dishonest uses of language that have done so much to undermine the credibility of national leaders.”

So whenever Lincoln quoted from the Bible, which he did quite often, it was not just to manipulate Christian voters or simply because he admired its literary value, but he honestly believed the Scriptures shed much needed light on the world. At an early age, he was steeped in the Calvinistic views of his mother, with its focus on predestination. And while he ventured into other views in his day, he always returned to the Bible as a guiding light of truth and morality.

We see this in his famous “House Divided” speech while running for the US Senate in 1858. Taken from Mark 3:25, the speech thrust Lincoln onto the national stage as an articulate opponent of slavery, and helped propel him to the presidency two years later.

A humbled man of prayer
No doubt the Union army’s poor showings early in the war drove Lincoln to his knees in prayer. Many sources also claim that the tragic death of his eleven year-old son Willie in 1862, and then the emotional experience of visiting the vast military cemetery at Gettysburg in late 1863, were catalysts for Lincoln’s deepening spirituality. He prayed more earnestly, and his public speeches reflected a leader with a deep personal sense that somehow God was using him as an instrument of good within His unfolding purposes for America.

Lincoln’s sense of Providence was already apparent in his First Inaugural Address in March 1861, in which he expressed hope that a combination of “intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land” would somehow resolve peacefully the crisis then brewing due to the secession of the Southern states.

Around the time of the Union’s sound defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, Lincoln sat alone in his office and penned the following words:

“In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party… I am almost ready to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet…”

This grappling with God’s purposes amid the bloody conflict continued to dominate Lincoln's public remarks for the rest of the war. In his immortal Gettysburg Address, Lincoln distilled the essence of the Civil War as a struggle over America’s belief in the equality of all men:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...” [60]

The Union’s victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 also prompted Lincoln to call for the first official nationwide observance of Thanksgiving Day in order to reflect on “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Finally, we see a similar theological message in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March 1865, in which he stated that both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Lincoln then referenced King David the Psalmist: “As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” With this precious truth from Psalm 19:9, the president humbly deferred to powers beyond the reach of logic: He had come to believe that God’s judgements were proper, even if they belied any rational explanation. Lincoln then concluded his speech on a note of reconciliation, with perhaps his single greatest utterance:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...”

Upon listening to Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the famous black statesman Frederick Douglas commented that it “sounded more like a sermon than a state paper.” But Lincoln’s words, and especially his call for leniency on the South, provide us with a remarkable glimpse into his struggle to come to terms with four brutal years of war.

Trusting in divine justice
I believe that while Abraham Lincoln was intellectually open to new thoughts emerging in that day, including Darwinian evolution, he ultimately represents a man who still feared God and sought to understand His judgments in the earth. Though he may never have openly professed faith in Christ, his worldview was deeply infused with biblical insights into God, man and the universe. This included a high view of mankind as created in God’s image – a view he was willing to defend by force of arms.

Lincoln also rightly proclaimed that “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9) The same Psalmist also said that “His judgments are in all the earth.” (Psalm 105:7)

I believe that, indeed, God’s righteous judgments can be seen working themselves out in every generation. In that regard, I believe the Civil War was God’s correction upon all of America for the sin of slavery.

The whole nation, both North and South, was morally complicit for having allowed slavery to take hold in the New World. The selling and enslavement of human beings was contrary to the principle expressed in the American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” The abandonment of this sacred principle was already underway in the drafting of the US Constitution, when the so-called “three-fifths clause” counted black slaves as merely three-fifths of a person solely for purposes of allocating seats in the US Congress; otherwise they were not deemed to be persons entitled to equal rights. This clause was included as a compromise to sway the southern slave-owning states to join the new, centralized federal government.

Then as new states were admitted to the Union, more slave states were allowed to join, such as in the “Missouri Compromise” of 1830, which served to maintain the balance between slave and free states in Congress. That delicate balance lasted for another 30 years but eventually tensions over slavery boiled over into open conflict. Thankfully, the right side won that bitter contest, but not before both sides had paid an immense price for allowing the evil of slavery. I believe Lincoln came to realize this to some degree, and therefore called for leniency on the South just ahead of his untimely death.

Yet even though America paid a very costly price for the evil institution of slavery during the Civil War, it took another 100 years and the Civil Rights movement to finally shame many white Southerners (and many other Americans as well) out of their sense of racial superiority. We still have a ways to go, in all nations and societies, to recapture the biblical truth that all men are created equal by a benevolent God, and thus we should treat every human life with dignity and respect. It is indeed an “unfinished work,” as Lincoln said at Gettysburg.

But we can also trust that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and that they are still in the earth today. We do not have to try to force justice through senseless violence, as many are doing at present. Besides, our own human sense of justice is usually a lot different than what God considers justice. Rather, what we could all use right now is a little “malice toward none, charity for all.”

 

 

David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. His book “Floodgates” is available at www.icejstore.com/collections/books

Points to Ponder this Tisha B’Av

Beginning next Wednesday evening (29 July), the Jewish world will mark Tisha B’Av, an annual day of mourning and fasting to lament the uncanny series of tragedies which have befallen their people on this singular date in history. Regarded as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av (“Ninth of Av”) primarily recalls the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem. But this day also witnessed a long litany of other major Jewish calamities which should give us all pause for much thought and reflection even amid our own current Corona plague.

According to the Talmud, this day of mourning is warranted due to five specific disasters in Jewish history which all occurred on the Ninth of Av.

1) The bad report of the ten spies sent by Moses to search out the Land of Canaan.
2) The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
3) The destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.
4) The Roman crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.
5) The Roman plowing of the Temple remains still in Jerusalem that same year.

Strangely, a number of other catastrophes in Jewish history also have taken place on the Ninth of Av. This includes the launch of the First Crusade (1096), which left thousands of Jews dead in its path; the Expulsion from England (1290); the Expulsion from France (1306); the Expulsion from Spain (1492); and the initial Nazi approval of the “Final Solution” (1941), just to name a few.

Focusing on the Talmudic list, there are important lessons to be drawn from them in relation to where we are today.

The Bad Report of the Ten Spies
Many Jews share the sense that all these calamities have occurred on this specific day because of the original sin of the negative reports brought back by ten of the twelve tribal leaders sent by Moses to spy out the Land of Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14). It was indeed a serious incident. They confirmed that the Land “truly flows with milk and honey,” but also voiced fears over the strength of its inhabitants, their fortified cities, and especially the giants in their midst, which made them appear as “grasshoppers.”

Their doubts about God’s ability to help them overcome these obstacles sorely displeased Him, especially after they had just seen His might so thoroughly displayed against the Egyptians. In fact, the Lord took their bad reports as a “rejection” of Himself (Numbers 14:11). It came down to a matter of simply lacking faith in God’s ability to keep His promise to deliver the Land of Canaan into their hands.

Now Moses interceded and spared the Israelite people from destruction, but there still was a price to pay for their unbelief – that of wandering in the Wilderness for forty years until a new generation arose which was ready to possess the Land.

This Tish B’Av, Israeli leaders are pondering the “annexation” question and looking at all the obstacles to possessing the Land of Israel this time around. They see a mass of Palestinian people and worry about the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and whether Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state. They see other ‘giants,’ such as Hizbullah rockets, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and the anti-Israel alignment in the United Nations.

But if Israelis are able to see with the eyes of faith, like Joshua and Caleb, they would realize God already delivered the entire Land into their possession some 50 years ago. True, there is still another hostile people in parts of the Land, but with patience and trust in God all these obstacles can surely be overcome.

Right now, the Trump peace plan offers them a chance to expand Israeli sovereignty to 30% of Judea/Samaria and the Jordan Valley. But as Jason Greenblatt, one of the architects of the Trump plan, confirmed this week, extending Israeli sovereignty under the plan “comes with a commitment to set aside a certain area of land for the eventual potential Palestinian state.” As vague as that may sound, it means annexing settlements would lock Israel into the real possibility of having to accept a Palestinian state on the remaining 70% of the West Bank.

It is better for Israelis to wait and trust God, rather than enter a process which would require them to cede forever part of their God-given land inheritance. To do so is like the sin of the twelve spies, for you are saying that God is not able to keep His promise to deliver the entire Land of Canaan to you in rest and peace.

The Destructions of the Temples and Jewish Exiles
The destructions of the First and Second Temples were both very painful for the Jewish people – they still remember it even in moments of great joy like weddings. And the fact that both destructions occurred on the same date is doubly ominous. God certainly works on a precise timeclock. Further, both destructions also were accompanied by bitter Jewish exiles from the Land of Israel.

The second destruction and exile at the hands of the Romans came in two phases. In the first stage, the Jewish people were deeply divided over whether to fight to the last man or surrender to the Romans and become their slaves. The Jews trapped in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD were actually fighting each other inside the walled city over this very issue, and it hastened the Roman victory. Then in the second stage a few decades later, the people followed a false messiah who led them to defeat and dispersion.

But God promised well beforehand that He would not leave the Jewish people scattered among the nations forever. Rather, He vowed to bring them back and “assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

This Tish B’Av, more than 45% of the Jewish people are now gathered back in the Land of Israel. That means we are almost near an historic milestone of more than half the Jewish people living back in their ancient homeland for the first time in actually 2700 years – since the Babylonian exile. But we have been hovering around these same percentages for the past few years, as the number of Jews moving to Israel has been about the same as the number of Israelis moving abroad.

Ironically, the Coronavirus crisis may be the thing which tips the scale and pushes us past the 50% mark. All indicators point to a sharp rise in interest and applications among Diaspora Jews to make Aliyah, due in large part to the resurgence of antisemitism worldwide. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog recently said he expects as many as 250,000 Jews to come home to Israel over the next three to five years. Together with the increased numbers of Israeli citizens returning from foreign lands, it may be the Corona pandemic which helps accelerate the formal end of the long Jewish exile.

This brings up one more point to ponder this Tisha B’Av. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, the Jewish Sanhedrin met in Yavneh and took a momentous decision to refocus Jewish religious life around the synagogue system. This fateful ruling held that as long as more than half the Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel, they were no longer obligated to keep the commands of the Mosaic law concerning Temple worship. But if half the Jewish people are soon regathered back in the Land, will Yavneh have to be re-visited? And will it mean they are obligated to rebuild the House of the Lord in Jerusalem?

The Jewish people have come so far in recent times, arising out of innumerable tragedies and centuries of exile to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their nation here. The remaining obstacles are not so steep that they, too, cannot be overcome, and a glorious future lies ahead for the nation and people of Israel. Let us be praying for them this Tish B’Av, as they ponder the events which befell them on this day in Jewish history.

Why Pandemics are Dangerous for Jews

For Abundant conspiracy theories and misinformation about the Coronavirus pandemic have elevated fear and anxiety levels for many. We have had to sift through benign misinformation and intentional disinformation to understand the potential dangers of this virus and the best practices to avoid it. Even the US government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has become controversial and many question whether it is the place to go for reliable information.

Government Misinformation
Other countries have even less trustworthy and helpful governments. They are at the mercy of corrupt leaders attempting to hide their own mishandling of the crisis and place blame elsewhere through their state-controlled media.

Case in point: a Chinese government spokesman set off a disinformation frenzy in China when he tweeted the self-serving lie that it was the US army that brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Russian media then chimed in accusing both the United States and the United Kingdom of developing the virus to harm Russian ally China.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard generals claimed the virus was an American biological weapon aimed at both China and Iran, while Iranian state media also blamed the “Zionists.” Throughout the Muslim world, rumours abound that the Jews developed the coronavirus to gain power, kill a large number of people, and make a fortune selling the antidote.

Conspiracy Theories
These lies have infiltrated the internet and are used by conspiracy theorists to advance their anti-Semitic theories. The Anti-Defamation League is tracking and documenting the proliferation of these lies on both fringe internet platforms as well as mainstream platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit.

Conspiracies abound about the origin of the virus that blame everyone from the US government to Bill Gates to Israel. Some are using the virus as proof in their case for—or against—vaccination, immigration, or imposition of martial law. Racists are denigrating all things Chinese, while anti-Semites blame Jews for the virus as a means to manipulate the stock market to their financial advantage, bring down President Trump, or profit from a vaccine they developed beforehand.

Why the Jews?
Why the Jews? They are suffering from the virus like everyone else and trying to develop a vaccine just as fast as the rest of the world. Their religious leaders called for prayer at the Western Wall for the entire world to be spared this pandemic. Yet, they are blamed for creating it, using it to kill masses of people and then profit off of its treatment.

As wrong as it is, the proliferation of false accusations against the Chinese people is because the virus started in China. But what do the Jews have to do with this virus? Why the lies about Israel and the Jews? Because age-old anti-Semitism will use every opportunity to spew hatred on the Jewish people.

The danger for Jews during pandemics is not just the disease but also the conspiracy theories it spawns. One of the greatest catastrophes to afflict the human race was the fourteenth-century bubonic plague—known as the “Black Death”—that swept through Europe. Historians estimate that up to 50 percent of Europe’s population died in the pandemic, with rates of death as high as 75 percent in Italy, Spain, and France.

The Jewish minority had already been demonized by church and state, so they were an easy scapegoat. They also fared better than the general population, possibly due to their dietary and religious practices or the fact many were confined in walled ghettos. Their lower death rates, however, fuelled suspicions they were behind the pandemic, and many Jews who survived the plague were then massacred in pogroms.

We should not dismiss conspiracy theories as mere craziness. Conspiracy theories produce anger, and anger moves quickly from words into actions; verbal insults often result in physical attacks. It is, therefore, our responsibility to speak up against these lies and point people to reliable sources of information.

Flattening the Curve
While seeking to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, we must do the same with the pandemic of anti-Semitism. It is a deadly virus that poisons hearts and minds, eventually destroying those it infects along with those they hate.

We must take the necessary steps to identify and isolate it, protect others from becoming infected, and develop educational “vaccines” against it in our churches, schools, and society.

Is the Middle East Sitting on a Powder Keg?

For at least a decade now, Israel has been conducting a shadow war with Iran in the region that is proving quite successful, maybe even a little too much so. The radical regime in Tehran is currently under mounting pressure to either account for a series of recent mishaps across the country or start exacting revenge on Israel for its suspected sabotage campaign. Given other developments in the region, even the Corona pandemic may be not be able to forestall a serious military flare-up in the region.

FOR THOSE keeping count, as of this Friday morning there have now been eight mysterious ‘incidents’ at various military and industrial facilities across Iran over the past two weeks. This includes explosions and/or fires at a ballistic missile factory, a missile storage facility, a medical clinic in Tehran, a power plant and a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, an automotive factory, a gas storage facility next to the Parchin military base, and a warehouse at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

These last two sites are especially noteworthy. The Parchin base was once linked to suspected nuclear trigger tests, and Iran has repeatedly denied UN atomic inspectors access to the site. Meantime, the Natanz blast apparently took out a building where new centrifuges were being “balanced” before they were put into operation. Recall that the Natanz plant was temporarily incapacitated ten years ago by the Stuxnet computer virus co-designed by the US and Israel. More recently, Iranian authorities doubled its enrichment capacity in violation of the 2015 international agreement meant to curb Iran’s atomic weapons drive. Analysts estimate last week’s blast could now shut Natanz down for up to two years.

The clerical regime has been attempting to explain away all these mishaps as leaky gas pipes and unconnected accidents, but it sure is starting to look like a series of deliberate sabotage attacks – even to the Iranian public. They are demanding answers, and there is even a move afoot in parliament to impeach President Hassan Rouhani over his apparent incompetence.

If these recent events are indeed part of the covert conflict between Israel and Iran, this would now bring the aggregate score in this contest to a decisive 180 goals to 0 in favor of the ‘Zionist’ side!

OVER RECENT YEARS, Israel has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes inside Syria against Iranian, Syrian and Hizbullah targets. Some of these bombing raids and missile strikes were devastating, lighting up the Damascus skyline and rattling the entire city, wiping out arms depots, crippling major air bases across the country, and killing dozens of fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its affiliated Shi’ite militias.

Israel also has reportedly struck at Iranian-backed militias and missile batteries operating in western Iraq.

In addition, there was that daring raid on a non-descript Tehran warehouse in 2018 when Israeli operatives whisked away a treasure trove of secret archives from Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.

Add in the IDF’s discovery and destruction last year of Hizbullah’s cross-border terror tunnels in southern Lebanon, thereby robbing Iran of a key secret strategy for attacking Israel.

Plus, after thwarting a cyber attack that would have poisoned much of its water supply, Israel sowed complete confusion at Iran’s main port through its own cyber hacking.

Finally, in January of this year the US army scored a dramatic hit on al-Quds Force commander Qasem Solemani at the Baghdad airport, which succeeded in large part due to the accurate tracking information provided by Israeli intelligence.

Strangely, the Iranians have rarely responded to these multiple Israeli blows, and the few counterpunches they have thrown were unusually feeble. There have been a handful of rockets fired from Syrian territory in the direction of the Golan, but most were shot down or fell short of the border. There also were a couple drone incursions into northern Israel that were easily detected and neutralized by Israeli air defenses.

So the Israeli military has dealt numerous upper cuts to the Iranian axis, while the Mossad picked the Ayatollah’s pockets and helped decapitate the main exporter of the Iranian revolution. Now with an apparent sabotage campaign going on inside Iran, the pressure is building on the ruling regime to either explain all these accidents or start taking revenge on Israel. The Iranian government is downplaying the rash of explosions and fires. But it is looking rather inept, especially when you also take into account the collapsing economy, the freefall of the rial, Corona’s true toll in the country, and its lies about the recently downed Ukrainian airliner.

THIS LEAVES one wondering why Iran has let the score get so lopsided. Tehran has shown it is quite capable of carrying out potent, sophisticated military operations in certain circumstances. For example, the surprise attack on the oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia last September involved numerous armed drones and low-flying guided missiles which successfully evaded advanced US-supplied air defense systems.

And Iranian officials indeed generate a lot of bluster and noise about getting back at Israel, and its American ally, every time they take a punch.

But the Iranians also invented chess, we are told, and they like to think more long-term, weigh the stakes, and anticipate several moves ahead. In this school of thought, it is more important for them to keep entrenching their forces in Syria and Iraq, tightening their grip on Lebanon, threatening Riyadh via their Houthi surrogates in Yemen, shipping oil to Venezuela, and developing their missile and nuclear capabilities at home.

In the meantime, if they can deliver the occasional and plausibly-deniable strike through some regional proxy militia, then so be it. And latest reports indicate they were just caught trying to resort to an old tactic of striking at Israeli diplomatic missions abroad.

Still, they do have extremely lethal assets at Israel’s doorstep which pose a real threat to the Jewish state, most notably in the form of Hizbullah’s arsenal of more than 150,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon. This now includes scores of longer-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, as well as improving “killer” drone capabilities that remain an unknown to the Israeli military.

Lebanon itself is in the throes of a severe economic crisis which could seriously destabilize the country along sectarian lines once more. The national currency has lost nearly 80% of its value, pushing many into poverty. People are bartering their goods and services on Facebook to find food for their families. The reeling government has started leaving crates of fruits and vegetables along the streets to help feed the desperate population – a drastic move not seen even in the darkest days of the nation’s 15-year civil war.

Drained of hope by the economic meltdown amid the Corona lockdowns, many courageous Lebanese citizens – Shi’ites included – have taken to openly confronting Hizbullah about its lead role in causing the national calamity. At the same time, recent reports out of Lebanon also indicate a growing sense that the radical terror militia may try to extricate itself by sparking a war with Israel. Every mysterious explosion over in distant Iran only fuels those fears.

The Lebanese may already know something the rest of us are just waking up to: the Middle East is sitting on a powder keg and the slightest ‘accident’ could set it off.
 

Why Christians care about Annexation

I have engaged with a number of reporters lately, both on and off the record, concerning the Trump peace plan. And one odd question keeps coming up: Why should Christians care about whether or not Israel annexes more territory in the West Bank?

I say “odd” because journalists are not asking the same question of everyone else. The United Nations, the European Union, Russia, China, leftists, the Arabs, the Muslim world, even the Black Lives Matter movement – they all are sticking their noses in Israel’s business. Yet many the press treat their concerns about annexation as legitimate, while questioning whether evangelical Christians really have a genuine interest or stake in this matter.

When some media outlets do give our concerns a serious look, we get slanderous pieces like The Washington Post column this week entitled “The mainstreaming of Christian Zionism could warp foreign policy,” by Cambridge grad student Jeffrey Rosario. In it, he trots out the tired old bogeyman of “Dispensationalism” and accuses American Evangelicals of thirsting for Armageddon and “weaponizing biblical prophecy for political ends.”

So for the record, here are some very valid, sincere reasons why Christians should and do care about Israel and its current debate over whether to annex parts of Judea/Samaria in the context of the Trump plan.

Standing for Fairness
Because so many Christians were hostile to the Jewish people down through history, we view it as our moral duty for Christians today to stand with Israel against those who are hostile to the modern Jewish state and people. There are simply too many nations and peoples who treat Israel unfairly and even loathe its existence without just reason or cause. So we are determined to stand against the rising tide of antisemitism, the rampant anti-Israel media bias, the stone-hearted threats of sanctions and violence, and the outright bullying of Israel in international forums.

We are simply standing for fair treatment of the Jewish nation and people, in hopes it will create a more level playing field for Israel. The UN Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2334 in December 2016 is a prime example of the lopsided and prejudicial decisions routinely made against Israel. By declaring that the entire West Bank and eastern Jerusalem are “occupied Palestinian territory,” the international community ran roughshod over four millennia of Jewish claim and connection to the Land of Israel.

So when Israel is debating whether to assert its rightful historic claim and title to the biblical heartland of ancient Israel, Christians are interested and we have every right to be.

Standing for Right
Israel is a democratic state whose legitimate historic right and claim to the Jewish homeland was duly recognized by the international community not so long ago. Thus, “annexation” is not really the proper word for what Israel is considering, as it normally connotes the hostile taking of another’s property. Rather, Israel would simply be asserting sovereignty on lands it currently possesses and over which it already has a valid historic claim. Yet the world blithely treats it as an attempt to steal someone else’s lands.

Admittedly, there is a rival Palestinian claim to these same areas, but of such recent origin that it pales in comparison to the long-standing Jewish title over Eretz Israel. The people of Israel must decide whether to compromise on their superior land claim for the sake of peace. And as Christians, we respect Israeli democracy and the right of its people to make this decision free of outside interference or threats. Thus, with great empathy and care we will be watching the annexation debate and will stand with Israel as it wrestles with this very complex and consequential decision.

Standing for Truth
To build their rival nationalist claim to the historic Land of Israel, the Palestinians have found it necessary to deny any Jewish connection to the land, and particularly to Jerusalem. In doing so, they have decreed our Bible – both Old and New Testaments – to be full of falsehoods concerning the ancient Jewish presence in this land. This would mean King David did not rule over a large Israelite kingdom from his palace in Jerusalem, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. And that Jesus did not enter and teach in the courts of the Second Temple, as the Gospels all say. That should get the attention of Christians, and rightly so! The Palestinians also have routinely damaged and destroyed important biblical sites which bear the archaeological proof that ancient Israel once inhabited the land. So Christians are standing for truth, and the preservation of history, when we partake in the debate over the fate of the disputed territories.

Standing for Justice
Christians believe God made a covenant promise to Abraham to deliver the entire Land of Israel as an “everlasting possession” to his descendants. How and when God ultimately fulfills that promise is up to Him. But we do believe the modern-day return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, including the mountains of Judea and Samaria, are part of God keeping His covenant promises to the Jewish people concerning their land inheritance. Our Bible also says that God scattered them from the land for corrective and redemptive purposes, while at the same time vowing that He would always regather them to the Land of Israel one day. Thus, we consider it a matter of historic justice that the Jews have returned to their homeland in modern times. And since Christians also serve the same God as the Jewish people, our own faith is strengthened when we see Him being faithful to His promises to Israel concerning the Land.

So to answer the question, Christians have plenty of reasons for why we care so deeply about the annexation debate and how the Jewish people hope to maintain their enduring connection to their biblical homeland.

Revisiting the Trump Plan

At first glance the Trump peace plan appeared to have a lot of positive benefits for Israel, but now I am not so sure it would be a change for the better

US President Donald Trump’s “vision” for peace certainly marked a welcome reversal of the trend of recent decades whereby the international community slowly whittled away at Israel’s rights and positions in the peace process. Whereas Israel was increasingly under pressure to offer the Palestinians nearly 100% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, Trump’s plan dropped back to only 70%. And even with that, Israel would retain overall security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and no settlements would be forcibly uprooted.

The Palestinians also would have to meet some steep preconditions to qualify for statehood – e.g., disarm Hamas, accept a demilitarized state, end the ‘pay-for-slay’ welfare benefits for terrorists, and educate for peace.

But with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now poised to start extending sovereignty to parts of Judea/Samaria come July 1st, many have taken a closer look at the Trump plan and are having second thoughts. To find out why, I joined a tour this week of the northern Shomron and spoke with local Jewish community leaders there.

Do The Math!
These settlement leaders said they prefer the status quo to the unpredictable consequences of the Trump plan, as all the Israeli communities in Judea/Samaria currently can access each other and Israel proper with ease. Israelis and Palestinians peacefully share the same main roads every day because the IDF is in control of them. This includes Highway 60, the primary north-south artery which runs from below Hebron, through Jerusalem and up past Nablus.

However, they fear the Trump plan is going to sever Highway 60 in several key places, blocking access to local Israelis. For proof, they point to the “conceptual map” which was released along with the Trump plan back in January. Although press reports suggest the final map is still being worked out by an American-Israeli joint committee, that initial map emerged after several years of consultations between US and Israeli officials and it already seems to reflect the Israeli consensus on which settlements should be kept in any peace agreement. The map also incorporates the Trump plan’s express aim of creating a contiguous Palestinian state wherever possible. Thus, we should not expect the map to change all that much.

The problem here is in the math. The Trump plan would allow Israel to “annex” up to 30% of Judea/Samaria, being half of the 60% of the West Bank designated as “Area C” under the Oslo accords. These are areas now under full Israeli civil and security control, where all the settlements and most of the main roads are located.

Yet Netanyahu is determined to procure the Jordan Valley, to create a security buffer between the Palestinians and Jordan, and that region already accounts for 20% of the 30% Israel is allowed to claim. On the conceptual map, the remaining ten percent is quickly consumed by solidifying Israel’s foothold around Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and the Binyamin region. As a result, little is left to secure the futures of some 15 significant settlements in northern Samaria and southern Judea.

The conceptual map shows these 15 towns completely cut off from each other, and each one accessing the rest of Israel via single, narrow corridors completely surrounded by the proposed Palestinian state. Further, once Israel starts extending sovereignty under the Trump plan, it immediately imposes a building freeze in those 15 settlements for the four years of proposed negotiations with the Palestinians.

So although the Trump plan would not force the dismantlement of any settlements, it would leave some of them so isolated, frozen and insecure, that they would likely succumb to voluntary evacuation. As one settler leader put it, the plans intends for these communities to “dry up.” The result would be a long, slow, painful displacement involving three-to-four times the number of Israeli families uprooted in the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.

Lost Heritage
Our hosts in the Shomron also voiced concerns over the potential loss of hundreds of important biblical sites revered by Christians and Jews, once they fall into Palestinian hands. This includes Joshua’s Altar, which we visited on Mt. Ebal (see Joshua 8:30-35). This is one of the oldest and most authentic biblical sites in the entire Land of Israel. The 3500 year-old altar was found to contain numerous irrefutable proofs of the biblical text, and helps to date the correct time of the Exodus – a major point of contention with Bible skeptics and Egyptologists.

Even notable New Testament sites like Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4), would be lost to a Palestinian regime that has shown no regard for preserving Jewish or Christian holy sites.

Exit Ramps
Above all, many settler leaders and their allies are coming out against the Trump plan simply because it calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. Some are banking on the Palestinians to continue rejecting the Trump plan, as they have always done with other peace plans. But others are worried that once Israel starts extending its laws to portions of the disputed territories, the nation will be locked into a process which could lead to a hostile Palestinian state in the heart of Israel. They are hoping the government will insist on clear exit ramps from the process for Israel should the Palestinians not comply with their obligations – which was a major point of weakness of the failed Oslo process.

In addition, Israel is only assured of American recognition of its sovereignty in the 30% it annexes, which could easily be reversed by a future US president as early as next January. Meantime, Israel would be widely viewed as having permanently ceded its claim to 70% of the territories and yet will still face the fury of the rest of the world for doing so.

A Plea for Patience
My own view is that the members of the Trump team which crafted this plan were well-meaning and have indeed tabled the best deal any US government has ever offered to Israel to resolve the Palestinian issue. However, I get uneasy any time Israel gets close to giving away any part of its biblical inheritance forever.

In June 1967, Israel came into possession of Judea/Samaria – the heartland of ancient Israel – in a war of self-defense. God miraculously delivered these territories into Israel’s hands, but the world has been trying to talk Israel out of them ever since.

Yet the lesson of the peace process over the intervening decades is that – whether under outside pressure or not – every time Israelis have been ready to cede in perpetuity any part of their God-given land heritage to the Palestinians for the sake of peace, it always seems to blow up in their faces in the form of violence and terrorism.

Instead, the Israeli people and their leaders need to have patience and faith in God, and allow Him time and room to work out His purposes for their nation. To surrender all future right and claim to major portions of Judea/Samaria just seems to me like a serious expression of unbelief, because it says God is not able to deliver these lands to Israel in rest and peace, as He has promised.

Rather, Israel should find a way for the Palestinians to run their own lives and affairs, but without ever having to permanently relinquish its claim and title to these contested areas. In other words, something akin to the status quo – which is not perfect by any means, but still may be the best answer until God provides a better one.

The international community also needs to learn the lesson that every time they try to birth a Palestinian state on lands divinely promised to Israel, that state always comes out stillborn. The Palestinians have declared statehood several times already and many nations have recognized it, and yet there is still no viable Palestinian state. Instead, we only wind up suffering through the birth pangs. May that not be the fate of the Trump plan.

ICEJ Statement on Annexation

With a new Israeli government finally in place, the debate is now fully engaged – at home and abroad –as to whether Israel should “annex” portions of Judea/Samaria under the terms of the Trump peace plan.

As this debate unfolds, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem will remain respectful of Israeli democracy and the right of its citizens to decide these matters of great national concern. Yet we also realise not everyone will afford Israel the same respect, and thus we will stand with Israel’s historic claim to the lands under consideration and its right to make these decisions free of undue interference, pressure and threats.

The term “annexation” is actually a misnomer in this instance, as it commonly denotes the forcible taking of the territory of another. But here, Israel already held a legitimate historic right and claim to Judea/Samaria even before it came into possession of these areas in an act of self-defense in 1967. The question now facing Israel is whether to fully assert its sovereign title to certain of these territories by simply extending its laws there.

The Jewish people’s claim to the historic Land of Israel was recognized by the international community at the San Remo Conference in 1920 and in the League of Nations’ mandate decisions in 1922. This was not the granting of a new right to the land, but recognition of the Jewish people’s pre-existing claim as an indigenous people seeking to reconstitute their national sovereignty in their ancestral homeland. Nothing since has abrogated or voided that right to sovereignty over the Land of Israel, including those areas now commonly referred to as the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s title to Judea/Samaria under international law is just as valid today as the sovereign claims of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to their own lands, since they all trace their title back to a common source. That is, the same decision-makers resolved in the same basic transactions to recognize the respective rights of each nation based on the same set of legal principles.

By its nature, sovereignty also includes the right to cede lands, and the Israeli people must now decide whether to fully assert their rights to certain portions of Judea/Samaria and to cede other areas to their rival Palestinian claimants for the sake of peace. Sadly, previous Israeli attempts to achieve peace by conceding disputed lands to the Palestinians were met by rejection, violence and bloodshed.

The Trump plan represents a clear departure from these failed peace efforts of the past. It dramatically reverses the trend of recent decades whereby the international community has slowly eroded away at Israel’s rights and positions without requiring any Palestinian concessions. It also truly tests, for the first time, the real intentions of the Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, the plan has many benefits for Israel, but it also would require painful concessions and involve huge security risks. There are a number of other factors which will need to be considered, such as the repercussions in the region and the re-election chances of President Trump. But these are decisions for the Israeli people to make, and the leadership and global following of the ICEJ will stand beside them in a responsible, constructive role as committed friends and supporters no matter the outcome.

Dr. Jürgen Bühler
President
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
 

 

Share this: