The Israel-Palestinian Problem: A Biblical Solution
Teddy L. Desta
The problem in the Middle East, particularly the relationship between Israel and Palestinians, can find a solution only when any man-made peace plan follows the peace plan outlines provided in the Bible. The following is what we find in the Bible about the Israel-Palestinian problem and its solution. Since the Bible's speaks about the broader Israel-Arab relationship as well, what is presented here can be called the Bible's Middle East peace plan (BMEPP).
- Unlike no other geo-political regions, God has made clear His mind about the future security arrangement of the Holy Land (i.e., today’s Israel, but not necessarily limited to its present-day borders). Only if God has not shared His plan about the future of the Holy Land, then that we would have been free to let the best of our political thoughts and diplomatic practices to guide us in our search to write a Middle East plan. But since God has shared His mind about the Holy Land's future, then our duty is to read His plan from the Bible and follow His precepts and blueprint. In the sense, we will succeed in our search for peace for a problem only when we make the Bible our starting place. To do otherwise is to set up ourselves for failure.
- Today, to a considerable extent, the world community believes that political, economic, and social justice for Palestinians can come only through a two-states solution. A TSS, by ending the occupation of the West Bank by Israel, will guarantee the Palestinians their own independent state. Most Palestinians buy the idea that their myriads of problems get solution only when they win their own national state. Even going far, some extremist Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to altogether displace Israel as a state planning to set up an Islamic Palestinian state in the whole the Holy Land area. (The Holy Land, in this context is the promised land as defined in Joshua chapters 13- 19).
However, both a two-states solution or a one-state solution where Hamas is the ruler have one major problem: They fly against the will of God as expressed in the Bible. For that matter, any peace plan not crafted according to the Bible is doomed to fail. Such a plan which does not take into consideration, at least the major parameters of peace as written in the Bible will keep failing, never able to realize the peace which the two peoples or other countries in the region desire greatly. In short, a peace plan based on the vision of secular Zionism, global or regional organizations, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas will all fail because they all make God’s word invalid. When it comes to Middle East peace, we must swallow our human pride, and let God be God. In this matter, if necessary, peacemakers and stakeholder should let God be true and all humanity a liar (cf. Rom 3:4).
- We must go to the Bible to find about the LORD’s plan for the Holy Land. For example, the Bible shows that the so-called occupied territories lie within Israel’s ancient heritage and will belong to Israel in her restoration after her long absence from the Land. Today’s “Occupied Territories” are part of God’s original Promise Land which He gave to the children of Israel. In the second sense, the “Occupied Territories” falls within the lands God has said through His prophets that He would restore to Israel, in the Last Days when Jews return to Eretz Israel after their long absence. (See, for example, Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 34: 13-16; Micah 7: 14-16; Obadiah 17 – 21; Zephaniah 2: 4-9). Therefore, any man-made peace plan that tries to deny Israel jurisdiction over the land (defined either as the Promised Land or as restoration prophecy), will fail. That is, any man-made peace plan can succeed only to the extent that it shows respect to God's will as expressed in the Bible.
"This is what the LORD says: "As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, 'As surely as the LORD lives'--even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal--then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it," declares the LORD.” (Jer. 12: 14-17)
- The Bible recognizes that upon their restoration to the Land, Jews would face hatred from the people dwelling in the Land. But God warns that He will take tough action against any hatred Jews may be facing. But after such a cleansing, Palestinians will experience recognition and elevation. In the end, there will be a political alliance between Jews and Arabs. Potentially, there will be an “assimilation” of the Palestinians into the Jewish social and political fabric.
"Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. a mixed people shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of Philistia. And I will remove their blood from their mouth, and their detestable things from between their teeth. Then they also will be a remnant for our God, and be like a clan in Judah, and Ekron like a Jebusite." (Zechariah 9: 5-8)
Hence, what God’s has a plan is that Jews and Palestinians should live together peacefully in the Holy Land, ever growing closer. Before they reach this stage, however, God must do a deep work of cleansing among the Palestinians. This is related to their attitude towards the Jews’ presence in the Holy Land. The first step is that Palestinians accept the biblical declaration that Jews belong to the Holy Land. Therefore, Palestinians must abandon any plan to push them into the sea at worst or rule over them as second-class-citizens. As a second step, Palestinians will become part of the Jewish polity as full-fledged citizens as loyal and notable members of the state.
What God speaks through Zechariah is not a two-states solution. It is a one-state solution. Any man-made peace plan that overlooks God’s plan could fail. But some people would reject a one-state solution because Jews and Palestinians are so different culturally and that they have wounded each other so deeply that to make them live in one-state is unwise and impractical. But there is a scriptural precedence where Jews and Palestinians coexisted and cooperated. King David was who built the first unified Jewish state. He was quite a pious Jew of the first order, and he was a nationalist par excellence. But King David’s chosen bodyguard or elite force was from Philistines (i.e., in modern day terms, Palestinian). This Palestinian contingent was loyal to David even the moment a coup d’etat carried against David by his son, Absalom.
"All his servants marched past him—all the Cherethites and Pelethites, and six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath. The king said to Ittai the Gittite, "Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the LORD show you kindness and faithfulness." But Ittai replied to the king, "As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be." (2 Sam 15: 18-21)
King David, who had fought the Palestinians (i.e., Philistines) in several skirmishes, knew how to make peace with his enemies. He knew how to work with them for mutual interest. He knew how to accommodate them. David was so successful in his relationships with them so much that he gave a contingent of Palestinians an honored and trusted position in his army. For example, Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, was a devoted soldier in King David’s army. But Uriah was a Hittite, a non-Jew. It is this kind of relationship between Jews and Palestinians that God vows to bring about in what the prophet Zechariah predicted.
- God’s peace plan — to the surprise of many — includes the East Bank! This is because the original Promised Land includes lands on the east bank of the Jordan River. This is the land given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32, Joshua 13:15-23). You may ask that was then, but does God promise the Jews a land to the east of the Jordan River in their restoration from their long exile? Yes, God does. God’s plan for the Jews, as part of their restored Jewish state, includes the east bank of the Jordan, the traditional land of these three tribes (See Jeremiah 30:3). Gilead (which is the traditional pasture land on the east side of the Jordan River) is part of Israel’s original and restored inheritance (Jeremiah 50:19; Micah 7:14).
"But I will bring Israel back to their own pasture, and they will graze on Carmel and Bashan; their appetite will be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and Gilead." (Jeremiah 50:19)
"O LORD, protect your people with your shepherd’s staff; lead your flock, your special possession. Though they live alone in a thicket on the heights of Mount Carmel, let them graze in the fertile pastures of Bashan and Gilead as they did long ago." (Micah 7:14)
However, today the lands of Ruben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh are part of the Kingdom of Jordan, and they are Palestinians mostly in their inhabitants. If this plan becomes a reality, then all Palestinians — including those in Gaza, the West Bank and East Bank — under a single polity umbrella. This polity, because of God’s promises, we will remain Jewish in state profile. Palestinians will enjoy recognition and rights. Palestinians will gain political status within the Israeli polity. Palestinian social, economic, and political elevation depends on the condition as set by the Prophet Zechariah. They must reject their rejection of the state of Israel. They must accept the Jews’ place in the Holy Land, which the Bible declares.
Briefly, what God envisions for Israelis and Palestinians is a one-state solution. This is a one-state which will be just and fair to both Jews and Arabs. Second, what God says restoring Jews to Gilead suggests a political arrangement like a confederation between the state of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. So, those nationalist Israelis who say the Palestinians in the West Bank must evacuate to the Kingdom of Jordan are flat wrong. Unknown to them, their plan goes against the plan of God. Instead, God will settle Jews in Gilead. That can become a reality, for example, through a confederation arrangement that Israel reaches with the Kingdom of Jordan. Third, God will bring Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, and Jordan into one state through the confederation arrangement. Palestinians in the Diaspora will now get the right of return. Israel will allow this to happen because Palestinians will accept Jews as their kin.
- God also has a peace plan for the larger Middle East region is about Israel and the Arab relationship. God promises to do the unthinkable about a Jew-Arab relationship, which has been a source of war and friction in the Middle East for decades. According to Bible prophecy, Arab nations, both moderate and radical, will have a cordial relationship with the state of Israel. For example, the prophet Isaiah writes:
"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance." (Isaiah 19: 23-25)
According to God’s plan, in terms of relationship with the state of Israel, a moderate Arab state (for example, Egypt), a radical Arab state (for example, Syria) will have a positive relationship with Israel. The trio will form an axis of blessing from God for the world. God will make the Middle East a peaceful place as He brings together these irreconcilable forces which have been behind the turmoil and war in the region for so long.
- God’s Word speaks, although not much, about Iran, using its ancient names such as Elam, Medes, and Persia. Iran may first face turmoil, war, and exile (Isaiah 22: 5-11, Jeremiah 49: 34-37). Then God promises to place His throne in Elam, which is a promise to turn Iranians to His faith. The Word carries a promise to end the current anti-Israel regime in Iran.
"I will establish my sovereignty over Elam. I will destroy their king and their leaders," says the LORD. "Yet in days to come I will reverse Elam's ill fortune." says the LORD" (Jeremiah 49: 37-38).
One of the big problems for settling peace between Israel and Palestinians has been the regime in Iran. Here God promises to remove a regime in Iran and substitute it with a government open to His will.
Advice to Israel
- Israel should be careful not to dispossess Palestinians or marginalize them. Current Israel must emulate its forefathers, such as Abraham, Joshua, and King David, in treating Palestinians with fairness and justice. For example, Abraham, though promised the land, when offered a cave to bury his wife for free, he insisted to pay for it (see Genesis 23). Abraham did not feel entitled to get the land for free. He did not take advantage of God’s promise in engaging in an unfair deal with the indigenous people. He respected their property rights.
- God ordered King David to build a sacrifice altar at Mount Moriah. But the place where God wanted the altar built belonged to a Jebusite farmer, a non-Jew indigenous person. Although King David was the most powerful person in the nation, he did not expropriate the farmer and use his land to build an altar to God. Even if the farmer wanted to give the land for free to his king, David insisted on paying for the land (2 Sam 24:24). David never abused his kingly power (Cf. Jeremiah 22:15-16). He never used religion as a cover to take away property from his people, Jew, or non-Jew, without due compensation.
God’s orders to His people is that they stay a just and a fair-minded people, showing mercy and justice without discriminating against the poor and the stranger (Deuteronomy 24: 14, 16; 25: 13-16; Isaiah 10: 1-2). God expects the polity to have the same law for Jew and non-Jew, to native and immigrant. Jews must apply the same scale of justice to all, regardless of citizenship status. The Jew must be impartial in administering justice (See Proverbs 20:10, 20:23, 21:22).
The following are a few suggestions for I-P peace-makers to consider.
i). Civic engagement
Both sides need to take a few crucial steps to start and foster people to people contact to develop a positive rapport between the two communities. As much as hate and conflict are man made, equally understanding and peace are man-made. Peace-building needs courage and effort.
Ideally, the Israel Government must facilitate the way where civic societies and goodwill persons start the first step in building bridges across the two communities. The process can start small but can grow into a snowball social movement. Such group-to-group meetings may involve sharing stories and perspectives, asking for forgiveness, weeping together, and discussing visions for a better future.
The stronger the bonds of friendship grow between the two peoples, less the opportunity arises for hardliners spew hate and foment violence.
ii). Goodwill outreach
Israel, for all plain reasons, has now won the armed part of the struggle for the Land. However, it has yet to win the battle for the hearts-and-minds of Arab/Palestinians. Israel-Jews now must do their utmost to stretch their humanitarian and goodwill hand to Arabs/Palestinians, particularly to the most vulnerable parts of those communities.
Israelis/Jews have the resources (funds, manpower, and technology) to do goodwill outreaches in many areas of life in helping Arab/Palestinians. This outreach includes but is not limited to, providing rare medical services, giving scholarships to bright Palestinian students in Israeli elite universities and programs, job opportunities to outstanding Palestinian graduates, funding to savvy Arab/Palestinian entrepreneurs, etc.
Israel must be open to discuss possibilities for members of the Palestinian Diaspora (who are no threat to its national security) to visit home and even return for good to their homeland.
Israel must see that the rule of law and fair system of justice makes the legal ethos of the Land. The court systems, both Israeli and Arab, must work impartially. Particularly the Arab/ Palestinian part of the society must feel that it does not treat them as second-class citizens. The life, liberty, and property of Arabs/Palestinians must count as high as that of Israeli-Jews before all courts in the land. A just legal and justice system is a powerful means to develop a sense of acceptance and belongingness. Through this tool, Israel-Jews can ensure that Arab/Palestinians feel welcomed and respected part of their polity.
The future of the Land belongs to the young.
We must start now to educate both Jewish and Arab children to learn to accept each other citizens of the Holy Land. Policymakers and civic leaders from both communities must sit down and write school curriculums that foster mutual understanding, empathy, and common purpose among the young. Weekend and summer camps where Jewish and Arab/ Palestinian children interact closer can foster long-term relationships between the two communities which can last generations.
Israel-Jews must start taking tentative steps allowing Arabs-Palestinians to rise in the ranks in the civil service, academia, mass media, and civil society. The state must allow public exposure and recognition for Arabs/Palestinians who excel in their field. This move is important to ally the fear of Arabs/Palestinians that their fate is always to be downtrodden, always passing as second-class citizens.
vi). Diplomatic initiative
Because of Hamas’s (and Islamic Jihad’s) anti-Israel policies, the people of Gaza have paid a heavy price. But now Israel must think creatively to address the Gaza problem. Israel must take its good relationship with Egypt and powerful Gulf states to make a bold diplomatic move. Israel must promise to lift its blockades against Gaza if an international consortium takes over totally in Gaza to administer the area, say, for the following 10 years. The consortium will ensure that Gaza disarms, develops civic societies, cultivates a normal economy, and engages with the rest of the world as a normal society.
Israel by initiating these bold steps, it can show the world its readiness and willingness to end the suffering in Gaza.
vii). Democratic and Jewish
By thinking creatively how to represent Arabs-Palestinians in the polity and integrate them into the society the Israeli-Jews can establish a system that is democratic and Jewish. Once Arab-Palestinians receive due political recognition, economic opportunities, and social respect they will concede - out of historical understanding and goodwill - that the state must remain mainly as Jewish in its orientations or the State of Israel in its name.
Moreover, other creative political arrangements can be devised where the Land will be undivided, the state remains Jewish in character and orientation, and Arabs/ Palestinians enjoy full political, economic, and legal rights. In short, each people "can has its cake and eat it, too."
In short, this is the kind of peace plan that God has in mind, and it is this plan we need to pursue relentlessly with all our mind, soul, and energy.
Glory be to God
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