It has been said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. At this critical juncture, in the wake of the recent Annapolis Peace Conference, I believe it is important to learn from modern history. Some have proposed that the relinquishment of Israeli land for the sake of peace is a noble effort. They point out that the extent of Israel’s land occupation is related to her obedience to God. When she does not obey God, she loses portions of her land. Since Israel does not presently follow the Lord, even some Messianic Israeli believers suggest it is appropriate to exchange land for peace. They further point to the issue of demographics. If Israel does not give up Palestinian-occupied territories, she will soon be faced with the dilemma of maintaining an Arab population far in excess of her Jewish population, and this would undermine the character of a Jewish State. For these reasons, some believers are in favor of Israel’s decision to turn over her land for the promise of peace with her neighbors.
The problem with this reasoning, however, is that history teaches us that if Israel turns over land to the Palestinian peoples, no peace will result. Instead, terror will worsen, more lives will be lost, and God will hold us all accountable. Indeed, it is laudable for leaders to seek peace. But when a group of international leaders gather to discuss the future of Israel, it almost never results in positive developments for Israel. I have observed such summits before, replete with handshakes, smiles, and promises, which ultimately only increased the amount of Israeli and Palestinian blood that would be shed. Wisdom tells me this conference will be no different, based not only on recent history, but on the true, current Palestinian state of mind.
1991 Peace Conference: Madrid, Spain
After the stunning Allied victory in Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, President George H.W. Bush sought to convene an international conference in Madrid, Spain, in 1991, in order to lay a foundation for peace in the Middle East. Spearheaded by Secretary of State James Baker, the US forced Israel and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to participate in this conference against their wishes by threatening to withhold promised loans Israel would need to settle the wave of ex-Soviet immigrants. Israel did not desire to be made to sit with its enemies, and expected little to be accomplished apart from the typical anti-Israel diatribes with which they had come to be familiar. Indeed, little was accomplished through this conference except the eventual downfall of Mr. Shamir, who was replaced by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a move that allowed the way for the Oslo Accords to be signed in 1993.
1993 Oslo Accords: Washington, DC
The Oslo Accords, and all the associated letters and agreements, resulted in legitimizing Yassir Arafat, who had previously been marginalized through exile in Tunisia, as the sole representative of the Palestinian Arabs. To some, the signing of the Accords ushered in a promise for a brighter, peaceful future for Israel and the Palestinians. Although there were areas of compromise and agreement reached by these Accords, the major points of disagreement between Israel and the Arabs were at that time, and remain today, the borders of Israel, the unity of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the “right of return” of Palestinians to Israeli land, and the problem of terror. Oslo solved none of those issues, and, in fact, abundant data shows that terrorism against Israelis actually increased after the signing of the Accords. Today, almost 15 years after the Accords were signed at the White House, the Palestinian Arabs still live in “camps” with little hope for the future, anti-Israel rhetoric abounds in Palestinian schools, terror remains a daily reality for Israelis, Israel is still largely shunned by the Arab world as an alleged “apartheid” State, and Jerusalem remains a contested city. In short, the same conflicts for which the Accords were created have not been resolved.
2000 Camp David
Years passed as did the unmet deadlines of Oslo, and in 2000, at a summit convened by President William Clinton at Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel attempted to assist Mr. Arafat in creating a Palestinian nation by offering 95% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and parts of Jerusalem in exchange for the cessation of terror. Mr. Arafat refused this arrangement, which represented the best chance for peace in his lifetime, and instead, a new round of terrorism began known as the Second Intifada, which continues today. This sequence of events eventually resulted in Barak being replaced as prime minister of Israel by Arial Sharon, who campaigned on a platform opposed to the concessions made by Barak at Camp David. It was assumed that a gentle approach to the Palestinians would now give way to a less gentle approach in order to improve Israeli security.
2005 Unilateral Withdrawal from Gaza
Indeed, that is what followed for a time. Mr. Sharon was successful in removing Mr. Arafat from international importance by physically isolating him in Ramallah. Never again would he negotiate with Israel as leader of the Palestinians. Eventually Arafat died, and new hope rose that more moderate leadership of the Palestinians under Mahmood Abbas would allow for resumed negotiations towards peace and civility. Despite this not proving to be the case, in 2005 Sharon forced Israel to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza and turn it over to the Palestinians. (This represented a complete change in the platform upon which he had been elected.) Israeli communities were demolished and businesses lost. A deep divide developed among Israelis over this relinquishment of land and community. The result of this historic withdrawal/relocation has been an exponential growth of terror perpetrated within Israel and Gaza from militants now flourishing unchecked in Gaza. Israeli towns in the Negev endure regular attack by rockets fired from Gaza. Palestinian society has completely failed to thrive in Gaza, which is overrun with anarchy by the terrorist party Hamas. This sequence of events resulted from two actions: unilateral Israeli withdrawal from territory and impotent Palestinian leadership.
2006 Second Lebanon War
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza did not represent the first time she turned over land for an alleged promise of peace. In 1979, as a component of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, Israel returned control over the Sinai Desert to Egypt. Although many hoped for aspects of the Accords never came to pass, a “cold peace” does exist today between Israel and Egypt, in part due to the demilitarized buffer zone that became established in the Sinai, thereby protecting Israel’s western border. Later, in the 1980s, Israel created another demilitarized zone in Southern Lebanon to protect its northern communities from terror and attack. However, in 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from this area. What followed was the development, deployment, and emboldening of the terrorist group Hezbollah into Southern Lebanon from where, in 2006, it attacked Israel and pummeled its northern cities with rockets for weeks. After weeks of conflict and a United Nations brokered cease fire, Israel did not emerge victorious (although some claim she did, for political reasons). The international community pledged to monitor and enforce the brokered peace but they have not. Instead, Hezbollah continues to serve in Lebanon as a proxy for Syria and Iran against Israel. Hezbollah does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and actively seeks to destroy the Jewish State. The international community has done little to prevent this dangerous group from re-arming since the end of the war. This should teach us that unilateral withdrawal by Israel from land lacking a stable government willing to stand up against terror may not result in peace, even when the nations are involved as mediators.
2007 Annapolis, Maryland
President George W. Bush is the first US President to call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. He has become the latest diplomat to encourage “land for peace” again. In November, 2007, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he convened an international summit in Annapolis, Maryland with hopes of bringing about a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, embracing the premise that once Israel and Palestinians made peace, a wave of Islamic goodwill would follow throughout the region. Over 40 nations attended, many of which have not recognized Israel as a legitimate state with a right to exist. The same issues that could not be resolved in 1993 or 2000 remain unresolved today. Quite sadly, until agreement is reached about borders, Jerusalem, the “right of return”, and terrorism, these “historic” agreements are actually meaningless. Let us examine these issues in more detail.
What do the Nations Want from Israel?
1. Withdrawal to former borders.
The present international call is for Israel to “withdraw to its pre-1967 borders”. This assumes that if the Jews agree to live on the land they had prior to the 1967 Six Day War, the Arabs and Palestinians will be appeased. Israel gives up land, and in exchange, is handed peace. This would amount to relinquishing Gaza (already done), the Golan Heights (to Syria), Judea and Samaria (to whom is not stated), and parts of Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount. But when the Old City of Jerusalem was under Jordanian control prior to 1967, synagogues were destroyed and holy sites desecrated. Jerusalem remains sacred to the Jewish people, and there was great joy when Israel liberated it in 1967. Religious Jews in Israel are so resistant to any sacrifice of Jerusalem that any agreement depending upon the division of Jerusalem cannot succeed in the near future.
2. Right of return.
The right of return refers to the return to Israel of Palestinian Arabs displaced, often voluntarily, from homes within Israel in the wars of 1948 and 1967. But there is a hidden agenda behind this demand. The agenda is for so many Palestinians to live in Israel that a Palestinian demographic majority is reached, thereby undermining the Jewish character of the nation, and eventually taking over all Israel.
Why, if the people want so badly to have their own nation in the West Bank and Gaza, do their leaders first insist on the right to live in Israel? I would assume Israel would be the last place Palestinian leaders would want to live once they have their own sovereign state. Consider that most Arab nations do not allow Israelis or Jews to visit them, let alone move there. In any case, the answer to the question above is found in the long range Palestinian plan against Israel, known as “The Phased Plan.” The Palestinians’ decades-old Phased Plan involves gaining a majority on whatever land can be “liberated” from Israel as a launch pad for insurrection against Israel from within. The Israeli government is quite familiar with this plan, so, although there are already over 1 million Arabs who live as Israeli citizens, the “right of return” is not likely to be granted.
3. Tolerance of propaganda.
One platform upon which the Oslo Accords rested was the Palestinians’ agreement to remove inflammatory, anti-Israel materials and rhetoric from their society, especially their schools. The goal was to raise a new generation of Palestinians who were not educated and indoctrinated with hatred of Israel from infancy. Unfortunately, as many media watch groups have verified, the Palestinians did not comply with this agreement. Murderous, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and formal indoctrination is still Palestinian policy. As a result, terrorism remains an honored lifestyle for many Palestinian youth.
4. Removal of security fence.
To date, the single most effective tool at combating terrorism against Israel has been the construction of a protection fence separating Israel from the Palestinians in the West Bank. It has proven to be more effective at preventing terror against Israel than Israeli military patrolling Palestinian areas. It is more effective than Israel allowing the Palestinians to patrol their own communities, as evidenced by the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal. As long as the dream of Palestinian Arabs remains “pushing the Jews into the sea”, or liberating the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the seeds of Palestinian terror against Israel remain and will indeed sprout. Admittedly, not all Palestinians feel this way, but the ones with the guns and rockets do. Until “moderate” Palestinians are able to police themselves effectively, terror prevention must remain primarily under Israel’s control. Hence, the most effective deterrent to terror, the security fence, needs to stay in place. (Additionally, as long as the President of Iran, while developing nuclear technology, continues to say Israel must be destroyed and funds Palestinian terror groups committed to this, the very existence of Israel is in danger.)
Expected Results from Annapolis
My initial reaction was that the most recognizable fruit of the summit, which I sadly believe will prove a failure, will be increased terror and international condemnation of Israel. The nations will likely blame the Israelis for unwillingness to compromise for peace. The Syrian representative has stated that there will be no negotiations with Israel until the borders are resolved. Similarly, the Saudi representative said no normalization of relations with Israel will occur until after the aforementioned issues are rectified in favor of the Palestinian Arabs.
As each decade passes, a war weary Israel concedes more and more in favor of peace. Yet, it is abundantly clear that Israel’s neighbors are not interested in peace with Israel or justice for their Palestinian brothers. Were these issues really about impoverished Palestinian peoples who had been displaced by wars, the wealthy Arabic countries in the region could clearly have settled them out of love and obligation. However, since 1948, only Jordan has openly embraced these refugees. Actions speak louder than words; the continued conflict is not really about the rights of Palestinians, but rather about the disputed existence of Israelis. I submit that Israel’s neighbors will not be satisfied until there is no Israel, and that they have not given up the goal of driving the Jews into the sea. Until Israel is sincerely and honestly recognized and regarded as a legitimate Jewish nation by its Muslim neighbors and afforded all the benefits implicit in that recognition, there will not be peace between Israel and her neighbors. Such a recognition must be far more than an Islamic hudna, or false promise that is made without honorable intent. As it is said: “If the Arabs laid down their weapons, there would be peace. But if Israel laid down her weapons, there would be no Israel.”
How to Respond
Ultimately, the Arab-Palstinian/Israeli conflict is about who will be worshipped in Israel and the world—-God or Allah. Do we resign ourselves to the reality there will be conflict, occasional bombings, Palestinian slums and injustices, continued condemnation of Israel, and mounting, murderous persecution against Israelis until Jesus returns? Do we limit the God of Israel by passively waiting for His eventual, future deliverance? The Bible tells us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6) Isaiah 62:1, 6-7 says this: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her a praise in the earth.”
God promises to respond to our prayers. He wants us giving Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her a praise in the earth. So with both wisdom and faith, we approach the throne of grace, petitioning for His kingdom to bear upon Israel. Pray that neither the US nor any other nation will pressure Israel to relinquish God-given land. (Joel 3:2) Ask God to raise up righteous rulers in Israel, the Arab nations and your nation. Pray for the salvation of Israel and the Arabic peoples. Remember to comfort those who mourn in Zion. Let us realize that greater realistic authority for peace in the Middle East rests with the Church, not with governments of man. “And the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)