A Historical Review
The vote by the United Nations to create a distinct Palestinian state—thus implementing a Two-State solution— is scheduled for late September. The U.N. Security Council must first approve the proposal and the United States would have its last opportunity to veto the measure before it goes to the General Assembly. A positive vote would give the Palestinian Authority a seat at the United Nations and make Israel vulnerable to sanctions by the international community if the resolution is not enacted.
The General Assembly of 192 nations does not have the power to create a nation, but only to make recommendations and accept new members. The critical issue under discussion today is the future boundaries of Israel and the proposed Palestinian state. This dialog was amplified by the suggestion a few months ago by the U.S. President that Israel return to its 1967 borders, with land swaps.
The decisions made over the next few months will deeply influence the future of millions of Jews and Arabs, both within Israel and throughout the world. The relationship between Israel and the United States is also at a key juncture because of the evident disagreements between the two countries regarding the U.S. President’s plan. It is essential for believers in Jesus to understand the gravity of the current situation and the significant roles that Israel and the Middle East play in the consummation of the ages according to Scripture. We must therefore pray for the shalom (peace) of God to fall upon Israel, the Jewish people and her neighbors.
A Brief Historical Survey: Israel’s Borders
The Jewish people have maintained a presence in Israel since biblical times, even though the ten northern tribes were scattered throughout the Assyrian empire and the remaining two tribes in the south were taken captive to Babylon in the 6th century BC. The Jewish people returned to Israel and continued to grow in population and influence despite being dominated by major foreign powers such as Persia, Greece and Rome. Yet there was never any doubt that this Land was the historic home of the Jewish people. Only the most radical opponents of a Jewish State of Israel suggest that the Jewish people have no historic right or link to the Land of Israel, or that the link does not entitle the Jewish people to the Land. Although the Jewish people were uprooted from Israel and scattered throughout the nations for many years, there was always a remnant of Jewish people living in the Land.
The Balfour Declaration in 1917 declared British intent to grant the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922 affirmed this. The British created the Transjordan (modern-day Jordan) on the east side of the Jordan River. Lopping off this part of Palestine was designed to satisfy promises of independence to the Arabs of Palestine. The area remaining was allotted to a future Jewish homeland. Modern Israel at this early stage included both Gaza and the West Bank, and both Jews and Arabs lived in the Land.
In the decades that followed, Jewish people came to Israel by the thousands, seeking refuge from European antisemitism, which was growing in ferocity. At the same time, similar numbers of Arabs came to the land seeking economic opportunity created by the growing Jewish community. The emergence of Nazi Germany and the murder of six million Jewish people during the Holocaust intensified the belief that the existence of a Jewish state was the key to the survival of the Jewish people.
After the conclusion of World War II, the United Nations approved a Partition Plan in 1947 (U.N. Resolution #181), again dividing what remained of Palestine west of the Jordan River into Jewish and Arab states. Jerusalem was to be an international city, governed by the United Nations as the home of three great Abrahamic faiths. The Jews accepted this plan, though the portion of land was smaller than what had been previously determined by the Mandate. The Arabs within Israel and outside rejected the boundaries and immediately attacked Israel after the declaration establishing the modern State of Israel on May 14, 1948.
The nascent State of Israel successfully defended itself, but the 1949 Armistice Agreements that followed established temporary borders, leaving Transjordan in control of the West Bank and Egypt in control of Gaza. A year later, Transjordan formally annexed the West Bank and took the new name, Jordan. Terrorism emanating from Egypt led to war in 1956, resulting in Israel taking control of parts of the Sinai desert but promptly returning it in exchange for U.N. border peacekeepers.
In 1967, the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia prepared yet again to attack Israel with the goal of destroying the Jewish state, promising to drive the Jews into the sea! Israel launched preemptive and defensive military actions and won a decisive victory, gaining control of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza and the Sinai. Israel offered to withdraw from these territories in exchange for peace, but in response the Arab leaders refused to recognize a Jewish state in the region.
On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 1973, the holiest day of the Jewish year, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. After initial losses, Israel again successfully defended herself against nations resolute in their goal to annihilate the Jewish state. Within a decade, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and returned the Sinai Peninsula.
Additional wars have been fought, though not always within the territory of Israel. The first Lebanon war was not against the Lebanese, but rather sought to end the attacks of Hezbollah, the Iranian-related organization that worked in concert with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). During the first Iraq war between Iraq and the United States, Saddam Hussein sent Scud missiles screaming into Jewish territory even though the Israelis had nothing to do with that conflict.
Israel recognized the PLO and signed a historic peace agreement (the Oslo Accord) with them in 1993. But PLO leader Yasser Arafat, after rejecting a far-reaching compromise brokered by President Clinton at Camp David, in 2000, launched a terror war against Israel. Daily images of suicide bombers blowing up Israeli restaurants and buses led to Israel building a fence cordoning off the West Bank, significantly reducing the Palestinian terror attacks.
In 2005 Israel made the painful decision to remove 25 settlements and nearly 9,000 residents from Gaza, leaving the entire area under Palestinian control. Israel hoped that this disengagement from Gaza might draw the parties closer to peace, but the opposite happened: the terrorist group Hamas became the elected Palestinian leadership in Gaza and used their position to launch daily rocket attacks into various cities in southern Israel. And so history continues. Jewish people—both in ancient times and today—have fought valiantly to maintain a Jewish homeland within the territory granted by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, according to the Bible.
What is at Stake?
United States President Barack Obama has called for a Two-State solution with the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations. President Obama also declared the United States’ firm commitment to Israel’s security, saying that Israel had the right to defend herself against any threat. However, most Israelis believe that a return to the 1967 borders would leave Israel indefensible.
The distance from the Jordan River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea is about 40 miles. If the West Bank becomes part of the “new” Palestinian state, this distance would be reduced to only nine miles at its narrowest point. Missiles launched from the West Bank could hit Jerusalem as well as Ben-Gurion airport and its flights; and attacks on Tel Aviv could cripple the economy of Israel. Israel, already hard-pressed to defend her small territory from the surrounding Arab nations that total 650 times her size, would not be able to protect herself.
PRAYING FOR THE PROMISED LAND
The Bible tells us that the nations will gather against Israel in the last days, and the prophet Joel writes that God will eventually judge the nations for dividing His land and scattering His people (Joel 3:2-3). As the Day of the Lord approaches, we must pray fervently for Israel and the Jewish people—not only for physical safety and peace, but also for individuals to turn their hearts to God and trust the Messiah who came once to die, and will soon come again to reign forever. We must echo the call of the prophet and pray for people to “…return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:13)
This will be a blessing to Israel and all her neighbors.
(For a full treatment of this subject, see Understanding the Arab Israeli Conflict: What the Headlines Haven’t Told You (revised edition) by Michael Rydelnik, Moody Publishers, 2007).