President Obama chose to kick off his second presidential term with a high-profile visit to the Middle East. He was accompanied by new US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Will It Be Peace?
By Irvin Baxter
Obama’s speech, held at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center on March 20, 2013 before 600 handpicked Jewish students, centered on the theme that there is no alternative to a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis. He argued that, given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
To emphasize his point, President Obama quoted the words of Ariel Sharon, “It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.”
He also reminded Israelisof the growing frustration in the international community that is pushing Israel further and further toward isolation.
Finally, President Obama declared that peace is necessary. Indeed, it is the only path to true security. He also made the case repeatedly that the relationship between Israel and the United States has never been stronger and that the US would always be there to guard Israel’s back.
The John Kerry Peace Initiative
President Obama said he did not go to the Middle East with a peace plan. However, John Kerry has been moving heaven and earth since the president left in an attempt to get the Middle East peace negotiations back on track. Between March 20 and the present, Kerry has visited Israel four times. Another visit is planned for the second or third week of June.
Kerry’s message to Israelis has been: If peace is not achieved now, it may never be achieved. Since the UN has officially recognized the Palestinian state within 1967 borders, the Palestinians will soon begin to file charges against Israel as an occupying power at the International Criminal Court—if an agreement is not achieved by negotiations. Sentiment against the West Bank settlements is building, and already some nations are boycotting goods produced there.
His message to the Palestinians has been: The state you seek will not be realized through unilateral action at the UN. You will only achieve your state by sitting down with the Israelis and reaching an agreement. Furthermore, the longer you wait the more entrenched the Jewish settlements will become. It’s been 46 years since the 1967 War. If you wait another 40 years, the present occupation will have become the status quo.
On June 4, 2013, Kerry issued a warning to both Israelis and Palestinians: “The coming days will be crucial for both Israelis and Palestinians and could determine the fate of the Middle East for decades. The implications of failing to reach a two-state solution will be dire. If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”
Will a Peace Agreement Ever be Achieved in the Middle East?
Since 1948, statesperson after statesperson and political leader after political leader have attempted to find the elusive formula that would bring hostilities to an end and finally bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Several times the dream of peace has appeared to be almost within the grasp of those who would claim it… only to move elusively away at the last moment like the proverbial beach ball just beyond the finger tips. The evasiveness of the prize has left many of history’s finest peacemakers to wonder if peace will ever be achieved between the two historic protagonists.
So, will there ever be a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians? Yes! The Bible specifically prophesies a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis will be achieved in the near future.
What Do the Prophecies Actually Say?
The peace agreement spoken of in scripture will apparently be a seven-year interim agreement. This agreement will establish provisional borders for the new Palestinian state, and the Temple Mount will be placed under a sharing arrangement so that both Jew and Muslim can worship there. It appears the settling of the status of Jerusalem will be postponed until the end of the interim agreement.
Why an Interim Agreement?
Why are we led to believe that the coming Middle East peace agreement will be an interim agreement? The prophecy about the Middle East peace states the Antichrist will confirm Israel’s right to exist for seven years. The fact that this peace agreement will be a seven-year agreement leads us to believe that some issues will be left unresolved.
The most intractable of all issues between Israel and the Palestinians is the status of Jerusalem. Israel captured Jerusalem in the 1967 War and formally annexed the eastern part of the city in 1980, declaring united Jerusalem to be the eternal, undivided capital of the state of Israel. However, Palestinians are adamant that they must have east Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas says there will be no peace without east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Since both sides are unwilling to compromise on the status of east Jerusalem, the only way to move forward is to agree that the Jerusalem issue will be dealt with later—perhaps seven years later.
Provisional Borders of the Palestinian State
Yossi Beillin, a chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords back in 1993, recently debated the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He said that provisional borders for the new Palestinian state could be established, allowing Palestinians to begin governing themselves. Beillin proposed provisional (interim) borders so that one or two issues on which the parties cannot agree would not be allowed to sabotage the entire peace process. Beillin claims that Netanyahu would be willing to enter such an agreement.
Sharing of the Temple Mount
On May 14, 1948, Israel formally declared her independence. One day later, Israel’s Arab neighbors launched a war against the fledgling state. The Jordanian army crossed the Jordan River, occupying the area of Judea and Samaria—the territory presently known as the West Bank. When the armistice was finally established in 1949, Jordan occupied the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount. From 1948 until 1967 Jews were not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount or even to visit there.
When hostilities commenced between Israel and her neighbors in 1967, Jordan launched an attack against Israel. Israel counter-attacked, capturing the Old City of Jerusalem and sweeping all the way through the area of Judea-Samaria to the Jordan River.
Many religious Jews wanted the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque to be immediately bulldozed from the Temple Mount and replaced with Israel’s Third Temple. However, Israel’s secular government feared the International Community, deciding the Muslim holy places should be preserved and respected.
After the war, Israel invited the Muslim authority known as the Waqf to return to the Temple Mount and placed the Temple Mount under its supervision. At this same time a vast majority of Jewish rabbis taught the Jewish people they should not ascend to the Temple Mount. The rabbis said it was forbidden for Jews to go there until they had been purified from contact with a dead body according to Numbers 19. The rabbis also warned that Jews visiting the Temple Mount might inadvertently trespass into the Holy of Holies since no one knew for sure where the First and Second Temples actually stood.
Once given authority over the Temple Mount, the Waqf decreed that only Muslims could pray or worship there. Since the Jewish rabbis had largely forbidden Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, these rulings by the Islamic authority went basically unchallenged for many years.
In recent times, the Jewish attitude toward the Temple Mount has changed. Because of research, the Jews believe they know approximately where the temple actually stood. Therefore, they now feel they can visit the Temple Mount without fear of trespassing on forbidden areas.
The Jews have also come to have another concern. They fear, if the world sees thousands of Muslims praying on the Temple Mount each week and no Jews even visiting there, the message will be sent that the Jews really don’t consider the place important. This fear has caused the Jews to make a concerted effort to encourage Jewish visitation on the Temple Mount. Over the last three or four years Jewish visitation to the Israel’s holiest site has increased to several hundred per week.
Still, Jews and Christians are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount. Israeli police fear any non-Muslim worship on the Temple Mount would provoke Muslim rioting. Therefore they have outlawed Jewish and Christian prayer in the name of preserving public safety.
During the last year or so, Jews have increasingly begun to challenge this policy. They argue that Israeli law provides for freedom of religion. Why should Jews not be allowed to pray on their holiest site on the face of the earth?
On August 8, 2012, a bill was introduced in the Israeli Knesset by MK Aryeh Eldad to place the Temple Mount under a sharing arrangement. If this bill were passed, Jews would be allowed to worship on the Temple Mount certain hours during the day and Muslims would be allowed to worship on the Temple Mount certain hours each day. This bill has not yet been voted on. However, Israel’s Speaker of the Knesset MK Yuli Edelstein on May 10, 2013, expressed hope that within one year the Temple Mount would be under a sharing arrangement.
Preparations for the Third Temple
The small but powerful religious segment of Israeli society firmly believes Israel’s Third Temple will be built on the Temple Mount soon. Gershon Salomon, head of the Temple Mount Faithful, believes so strongly the Third Temple will be built that he has prepared the cornerstone to be used for the beginning of its construction.
Over the last 27 years the Temple Institute, another organization dedicated to building Israel’s Third Temple, has worked tirelessly to prepare the furniture and utensils that will be needed when ministry in the temple is resumed. These preparations are now completed. The Institute has built the brazen altar for the biblical offering of sacrifices, and the brazen laver where the priests are to wash before entering the holy place. They also have constructed the Jewish candlestick (the menorah), the table of showbread, and the altar of incense.
The above furnishings have been completed for several years. The only piece of temple furniture that has not been reconstructed is the Ark of the Covenant—until this year. While visiting the Temple Institute in May of 2013, imagine my astonishment when our Temple Institute guide stepped over to a set of beautiful hanging drapes, pulling on the drawstrings. We were suddenly looking, for the first time, at a beautiful Ark of the Covenant. Our guide quickly explained that the Jews believe they know where the original Ark is presently hidden. However, this new Ark of the Covenant will serve in its place until the original one can be found.
Postponing the Status of Jerusalem
During his debate in January, Yossi Beillin stated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set in stone against negotiating the status of Jerusalem. Beillin contended there would be no possibility of progress in the peace process unless the Jerusalem issue is postponed until later. He said he had discussed this with Netanyahu and that he would be willing to reach an interim agreement with the Palestinians, leaving the status of Jerusalem until later.
It appears from scripture this is what is going to happen. Zechariah 14:2 prophesies that the armies of the International Community will capture half of the city of Jerusalem during the Battle of Armageddon. If east Jerusalem were already under Palestinian control before this, then scripture would not portray it as being captured from Israel during Armageddon.
Where Do Things Stand Right Now?
Everything in the Middle East equation changed on November 29, 2012. It was on that day that the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state. The resolution passed by the General Assembly recognized the 1967 borders as the borders of Palestine and also recognized east Jerusalem as its capital. With this overwhelming vote of 138-9, the UN declared Israel an occupying power and declared its unification of Jerusalem as its undivided capital illegal.
The implications of this UN action will prove to be far-reaching. Already the European Union, Israel’s number one trading partner, has recommended that its member states boycott any products produced in the “occupied territories”. Threats have already been put forward by the Palestinian Authority to file charges against Israeli governmental officials before the International Criminal Court. Prime Minister Netanyahu fully understands the dark clouds that loom just over Israel’s horizon.
After Israel’s elections on January 22, 2013, Netanyahu moved to assemble his new governmental coalition that will face the daunting issues just ahead. The first partner Netanyahu invited to join his coalition was Tzipi Livni. Livni had almost reached a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas when she led the peace negotiations in 2008 during the Olmert administration. Netanyahu promised Livni that she would lead Israel’s anticipated peace talks with the Palestinians. This indicated the Prime Minister’s clear comprehension of how critical it is for Israel to reach a peace agreement as soon as possible.
Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has insisted that peace talks cannot resume until all building is halted in the West Bank settlements. In order to placate Abbas, Netanyahu has quietly suspended all building permits for the West Bank and even for east Jerusalem. Netanyahu is cooperating in every possible way to make John Kerry’s peace initiative a success.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is putting all of his cards on the table. He has met with Mahmoud Abbas 11 times in the last 2 months and talks with Abbas on the phone virtually every day. Kerry has said it might be now or never for peace in the Middle East. His actions seem to indicate he really believes this.
What is Israel’s Position?
Over the last two years Netanyahu has openly endorsed two states for two peoples. He is willing to yield much of Judea-Samaria to the Palestinians. The exact borders must be determined by negotiation. It has been reported that Netanyahu would agree to Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s proposed solution for the 350,000 Jews presently living in Judea-Samaria. Fayyad said properties and businesses of Jews presently living in the areas that will become the new Palestinian state could be purchased, while relocating the owners into Israel proper. If those Jews chose not to leave their lands, they would be allowed to remain in Judea, living as a Jewish minority in the new Palestinian state.
Most Middle East experts agree there is only one possible solution to the Temple Mount dispute. President Clinton proposed the sharing of the Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews at Camp David in the year 2000. An international authority would supervise this sharing arrangement. According to reports, Netanyahu would be willing to accept such an arrangement.
There is one sticking point in the peace process as far as Netanyahu is concerned. Abbas says there will be no peace agreement unless east Jerusalem becomes the capital of the new Palestinian state. Netanyahu says Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the state of Israel.
What is the Palestinian Position?
Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has steadfastly declared for the last five years that he will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes all settlement construction including in east Jerusalem. He also states that Israel must agree on the recognition of the 1967 borders as the basis of a two state solution with limited land swaps to accommodate Jewish population centers located across the 1967 borders.
The United States has exerted tremendous pressure on Abbas to return to the peace table without precondition. However, he has not yielded to this pressure because he knows time is on his side. He knows the majority at the UN supports the Palestinians and that the longer the occupation continues, the more Israel will be isolated by the International Community.
Israel and the United States could probably bring about the downfall of Assad. However, the alternative would probably be the takeover of the entire West Bank by Hamas whose goal is the total annihilation of the state of Israel. Israel prefers the status quo to that possible development, and Assad knows that. Consequently, Assad would prefer to avoid peace talks and instead invoke action by the International Community.
When Will the Peace Agreement be Concluded?
We know from the Bible that a peace agreement is coming. The only question is: When will it happen?
Will John Kerry’s present diplomatic flurry be successful? If so, we could expect a peace agreement within months. However, it appears that neither the Israelis nor Palestinians are sufficiently motivated to make the necessary compromises to achieve an agreement at this time. Israel claims its security needs require it to retain more territory than Abbas is willing to agree to. Netanyahu will not consider the re-division of Jerusalem under any circumstance.
Abbas is adamant that Israel must return to 1967 borders and that east Jerusalem must be the Palestinian capital. Abbas also believes it’s only a matter of time until the United Nations unilaterally awards him with everything he wants.
If Not Now, When?
It is all of the above factors that cause most Middle East observers to believe that Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts for peace are likely to fail.
If the present circumstances do not provide adequate motivation for the two parties to make the necessary compromises for a peace agreement, what future events will?
The Bible prophesies (Revelation 9:13-15) a war that will kill one-third of mankind. The present pressures on Israel and the Palestinians are miniscule compared to those that will be produced by the worldwide outcry for peace after over 2 billion human beings have died. The people of the world will demand peace. No more excuses; get the deal done. And it will happen!
The Palestinian state will be created in most of the area of Judea-Samaria (West Bank). The Temple Mount will be shared between Israelis and Palestinians. The Jerusalem issue will be postponed until a later time—probably seven years.
So, will it be peace? Yes, there will be an interim (temporary) agreement lasting for seven years…but probably not now. The Sixth Trumpet War that will kill one-third of the human race will probably happen first.