Between the Straits: September, Statehood, and Survival

The three week period of the Hebrew calendar between the 17th of Tammuz (July 19) and the 9th of Av (August 9) is known as Bein HaMetzarim, or “Between the Straits”. For thousands of years it has been a time of warfare and danger for the Jewish people. Repeated tragedies have befallen Israel during this season, especially on the last day, known as Tisha B’ Av. We are presently in Bein HaMetzarim, and Israel is again facing a threat of epic proportions. As the calendar moves towards September, a dangerous and potentially deadly situation is developing internationally with respect to Israel’s security. Our goal here is to tie together the issues, consider the potential outcomes, and provide direction for prayer.

The Background
Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership continues to indicate that in mid-September it will ask the United Nations for recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state based on pre-1967 lines, with full membership in the UN. Towards that end, they are gaining great support internationally. It is expected that the UN General Assembly will fully recognize a Palestinian state; however, Israel hopes the United States, as a security council member, will exercise its veto power to defeat the resolution. Israel believes the conflict can be genuinely resolved only through direct negotiations, and has repeatedly called for resuming such negotiations with the Palestinians.

In all conflicts it is typically in the best interests of the involved parties to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution rather than have one imposed unilaterally or by a third party. The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is no exception. The Palestinians want an independent, sovereign, contiguous state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. In addition, they want the “right of return” of between 3 and 4 million Palestinian Arabs to Israel. They have repeatedly stated that they are willing to negotiate with Israel only if Israel first agrees to: (1) stop building in areas the Palestinians envision as their future state; and (2) accept its pre-1967 borders as their future borders.

On several occasions Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has acknowledged willingness to support the creation of a Palestinian state were this to bring about genuine peace and the cessation of hostilities. In this he has the support of most Israelis. But Netanyahu demands the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, with no Palestinian “right of return” there. Additionally, he is unwilling to halt building in East Jerusalem or other areas prior to negotiations.

At the same time, Israel insists there be no set preconditions to negotiations. Borders, for example, would be established through negotiations, not as a prerequisite to them. Since the definition of borders is one of the main points of contention between the parties, the idea of negotiating only after they are unilaterally established is absurd. It is profoundly unfair, impractical, and unprecedented in modern history. The current impasse, based on turning the very issues that are subject to negotiation into preconditions, can be traced directly to US President Obama. When the American President formally declared in 2009 that Israel must stop building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and in May 2011 that pre-1967 borders should define Israel’s new boundaries, the Palestinians could then accept nothing less.

Ironically, Israel met these “preconditions” twice previously but was rebuffed each time. In 2008 Prime Minister Olmert offered President Abbas the same borders, with agreed upon land swaps, as well as East Jerusalem as a capital. Abbas refused because Olmert would not allow 3-4 million Palestinians back into Israel. In 2010, hoping to restart stalled negotiations with Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu established a 10 month building freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Still, Abbas would not resume negotiations. It appears that the “two state solution”, with Jews and Arabs living side by side in peace, may not be the Palestinians’ ultimate goal after all.

Realities on the Ground
What do the Palestinians really want? Recent polling data released by an American organization reported chilling findings regarding the actual desires of the Palestinian people. As reported July 15 in the Jerusalem Post: “Respondents were asked about US President Barack Obama’s statement that “there should be two states: Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people and Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people.”

    “Just 34% [of Palestinians] said they accepted this concept, while 61% rejected it. Sixty-six percent said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state. Asked about the fate of Jerusalem, 92% said it should be the capital of Palestine, 1% said the capital of Israel, 3% the capital of both, and 4% a neutral international city. Seventy-two percent backed denying the thousands of years of Jewish history in Jerusalem. 62% supported kidnapping IDF soldiers and holding them hostage. 53% were in favor of teaching songs about hating Jews in Palestinian schools. When given a quote from the Hamas Charter about the need for battalions from the Arab and Islamic world to defeat the Jews, 80% agreed. Seventy-three percent agreed with a quote from the charter (and a hadith, or tradition ascribed to the prophet Muhammad) about the need to kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees.”

According to this poll, the vast majority of Palestinians would not be satisfied with the stated goals of the PA: a state within the 1967 borders living alongside Israel in peace.

Complicating matters even more is the rift between the PA (mostly governed by the “moderate” terrorist party Fatah) and Hamas. Hamas is the democratically elected Islamic terror group governing Gaza. It is funded, supported, and militarily equipped by Iran. It also remains a powerful force in the West Bank. Should Israel be forced to negotiate with the PA for the creation of a state that leaves Hamas positioned to terrorize it daily with rockets and missiles? Even PA President Abbas realized Israel would never agree to this absurd “solution” to the conflict. Thus he attempted to create a unity pact with Hamas to form a single governing body for all Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. Not surprisingly, his plan failed. Hamas and Abbas could not agree on core statehood issues even between themselves. The collapse of this short-lived unity pact – and others in process – offers further evidence that there is no true unified Palestinian agenda for peace with Israel.

Israelis are divided regarding where to go from here. The idea of genuine peace is appealing to the majority. For many, the prospect of losing their biblical heartland would have been outweighed by the preservation of Jewish lives should true peace result. But they now doubt that creating a Palestinian state will bring about that peace. A vocal and sizable minority still supports the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state. For most Israelis, the status quo seems the lesser of all evils so long as terror attacks remain infrequent.

The “status quo”, however, probably means the worsening international delegtimization of Israel. Though not yet military in nature, the global deligitmization movement is a potentially deadly form of warfare against the Jewish state. One forum for such evil, the UN’s Durban III conference on racism, is scheduled to be held in New York City September 21. Prior Durban conferences have been filled with anti-Semitism and Israel bashing, constituting outrageous examples of racism against Jews. Thankfully, because of the conference’s extreme anti-Israel bias, the US, Canada, Czech Republic, Italy, and Netherlands will boycott the conference this year together with Israel. Several other nations have condemned the conference, yet are expected to attend and participate to varying degrees.

Possible Scenarios
Most likely the Palestinians will bring their resolution before the UN in September. To date, more than 115 of the 193 member nations of the UN have independently recognized a State of Palestine. They are seen as likely supporters of a UN resolution. However, for such a resolution to be binding and enforceable, it would need to be approved by the UN Security Council. As one of five permanent members of the Security Council, the United States is able to single-handedly veto any resolution. The US has repeatedly indicated that such a resolution would be “unhelpful”, and is actively working to prevent the PA from bringing it to a vote. The pro-Israel US Congress has threatened to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority if it proposes the resolution. President Obama recognizes that unilateral declarations are not likely to result in peace, but fears the fallout should the US veto the will of a majority of the UN. Additional consequences of the US vetoing a UN General Assembly resolution could include Arab retribution in the form of a crippling oil embargo against the US. With gasoline prices at an all time high in America, it is not hard to imagine the pressure such an embargo would place on the US to reverse its policy towards Israel. So a US veto is not guaranteed.

The lead negotiator for the UN on Middle Eastern affairs recently warned that a vetoed UN resolution could lead to a “doomsday scenario”. He offered no specifics about what such a foreboding scenario might entail, but plenty of clues are evident.

It is not hard to envision a scenario where Israel’s borders are swarmed and confronted on all sides by masses of unarmed protestors, as well as armed militia, in efforts to force new borders. The attempted incursions across Israeli borders in May, June, and July of this year would be minor in comparison. Israel would have no desire to see such an incursion turn violent. First, the Israeli army is extraordinarily dedicated to the protection of innocent civilians, despite international media portrayal to the opposite. Second, unlike in her other wars, she is now surrounded by neighbors with long range missile capabilities. Every Israeli city is now reachable by enemy rockets (some with biochemical warheads) from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Gaza, and possibly Egypt. But should matters turn violent, an Israeli military operation, with full scale regional war, could result.

In such a case, the IDF, police and reserves would be terribly stretched defending multiple fronts, affecting both the safety and overall function of the country. The bulk of Israel’s military is comprised of civilian reservists who have other jobs, so a prolonged conflict would be very difficult to sustain. Israel, meanwhile, would also likely experience unrest and terror from within her borders, as a sizable Israeli Arab population strongly supports Palestinian statehood. A recent poll revealed that over half of Israelis expect a new intifada (violent uprising) to begin after September, regardless of what happens at the UN. A recent Jerusalem Post article outlined the army’s defense plans for the anticipated violence.

In recent weeks, some have said that Israel may use what little time remains before September’s bid for statehood to preemptively strike at Iran. Despite the brouhaha over a Palestinian state, Israel’s greatest existential threat emanates from Iran’s expressed intent to wipe her off the map, combined with its nuclear capability to carry out the threat. Reports of such a strike remain unconfirmed, and Israeli officials are not commenting on the issue. But in this scenario we would face an even more complex set of realities. No doubt Iran would retaliate directly and/or indirectly through its many well-positioned proxies. Again, regional war could erupt.

One thing is certain: Events in the Middle East are rapidly escalating and tensions are mounting. One can never be quite sure just how all the details will play out concerning Israel and those at enmity with her. But thankfully, we can be quite sure of God’s prophetic Word and His faithful character.

How to Pray
Let us remember that birth pains preceding the Lord’s return must inevitably come to pass. Yeshua tells us to lift up our eyes during this season. In saying this, He is not instructing us just to look up at the sky, disengaged from this world. He is reminding us to lift up our eyes in the worshipful spirit of Psalm 121: 1-2: I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121 is a majestic declaration of the sovereignty of Creator God. It is such worship that will undergird us as we approach the end times. With darkness increasing over the earth, His glory rises upon us when we lift up our eyes as a lifestyle of worship. Worship mediates heaven to earth.

It is often said that a person becomes what (s)he worships. As we worship the coming Bridegroom King, He transforms us into the image of Messiah (2 Cor 3:18). We are then propelled by His love into anointed, authoritative intercessory prayer, practical acts of help, and proclamation of the gospel to those in darkness.

  • Pray that the fulfillment of God’s end times purposes for Israel occur only in His sovereign timing. The devil often tries to usurp His divine timetable. (Psalm 102:13)
  • Pray that God will glorify Himself in Israel and the nations through upcoming conflicts and wars that occur in His timing. (Psalm 83:1-18)
  • Pray that Israeli hearts will be softened to receive the Holy Spirit’s loving conviction unto repentance. Please join us in praying that hearts will turn from idolatry, perversity, corruption and in particular, abortion. (Ezekiel 36:24-28; Isaiah 30:15-21; 2 Chron. 7:14)
  • Likewise, pray for a spirit of repentance to be released on those nations raging against God and His people. (Psalm 2) Pray for the American church to increase her prophetic voice and intercession on behalf of President Obama. Similarly, pray for the church in Iran to strengthen and begin to shift that nation spiritually.
  • Prophetically declare God’s sovereignty over Israel, specifically her land and sea borders. (Isaiah 60:18; Psalm 124) Proclaim, according to the Scriptures, that there is no sorcery effective against Jacob. (Numbers 23:23) Prophetically pray the blood of Yeshua over Israel’s borders.
  • Pray for an infusion of godly wisdom on Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders regarding the relinquishment of land. (Proverbs 21:1) Pray against any unholy alliance that would force this against God’s will. (Joel 3:2; Isaiah 54:17)
  • According to Psalm 91, pray for a shield of protection over Israel from upcoming conflicts and wars. Pray protection over Israeli soldiers, police, and civilians. Ask God for a minimum of casualties on all sides.
  • Pray for the Israeli body of Messiah to be prepared and anointed not only to intercede spiritually, but to reach out to those in darkness during upcoming difficult times. (Colossians 1:9-12)
  • Pray for an unprecedented spiritual harvest of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims in the Middle East. (2 Peter 3:9; Isaiah 19:23-25) Pray for revival — already incipient — in Israel, including the West Bank.

Be assured, fellow laborers, that your prayers are making a difference. Keep pressing in for God’s promises. He is faithful! The time to favor Zion has come. (Psalm 102:13) We pray heaven’s richest blessings on you and your household as you bless the Jewish state.