Van Ens: Does God choose a favorite in the Middle East?
Does God favor the secular state of Israel, thereby rejecting Palestinians’ bid for some of the same real estate?
Many evangelical Christians support President Trump’s recent Middle East peace plan between Jews and Palestinians. They are convinced the Bible teaches that God gave to ancient Hebrews and today’s Jews the sacred city of Jerusalem and the surrounding territory that forms the secular state of Israel, founded in 1948. Many evangelicals endorse U.S. foreign policy tilting in Israel’s favor, believing promises God made to Abraham 4,000 years ago are actualized — right before our eyes.
These evangelical Christians agree Jewish identity is determined by blood and sacred land, which determine who is a genuine Jew. When a person’s mother is Jewish and his/her identity is eternally tied to territory the nation-state of Israel now occupies, such a person is Jewish.
President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem brought jeers from Palestinians and cheers from American evangelicals. In biblical times, King David’s capital was Jerusalem. This Holy City attracts residents whose Jewish identity is rooted in this location, which they believe is blessed by God.
In contrast, Palestinian leaders contend that a predominantly Jewish state is illegitimate if it resides on land the Palestinians claim their own.
Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush presidential administration, accurately summarizes why Palestinians claim the same land the nation of Israel controls.
“History continues to tell us they’re [the Palestinian Authority] likely to continue to believe that Israel is illegitimate, its existence is an injustice, the land should belong exclusively to the Arabs, the Jews are not a nation and have no national rights, the Arabs should refuse to divide the land with the Jews and so on,” reports Feith in the Wall Street Journal.
Smiling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases, stood next to Donald Trump on Jan. 28, 2020, as the president released his “peace plan.” The president claimed he had not reneged on a two state-plan for Jews and Palestinians. Doesn’t Trump sound as if he’s making up this “fact” of near equal treatment of Jews and Palestinians, which lacks credibility?
In Trump’s plan, Palestinians are shoved to the eastern periphery of Jerusalem to establish their capital. The proposed Palestinian nation will be a patchwork of parcels intersected by Israeli walls and checkpoints that block free access.
This sell-out to Israel from President Trump “…cedes to Israel disputed territories where the Israeli government has built settlements, as well as control of the Jordan River Valley, which Israel considers crucial to protect itself from Arab terrorists moving in from the east,” reports the Wall Street Journal’s political commentator Gerald F. Seib.
Seib goes on to point out: “Those steps, U.S. officials said, would give Israel control of approximately 30% of what is considered the disputed West Bank. In past peace efforts, control of most of those areas, which Palestinians also claim as their own, was to be decided in negotiations.”
I offer two considerations for evangelicals who rubberstamp Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
Promises attributed to God in Genesis 12:1-3 to bless Abraham with “land in which God would raise a great nation from his seed” were given to this specific ancient Hebrew ancestor 4000 years ago. Why believe that such real estate transactions in 4000 B.C. can be superimposed on a secular state of Israel founded in 1948?
Unlike Judaism, Christian identity is not identified by blood and soil. It is defined by allegiance to a person: Jesus, the Christ, who is the son of God. A Christian’s identity is not tied to good land nor good blood but to the “good news” that God’s mercy, brought to earth by Jesus, plays no favorites.
God is not invested in divine real estate that favors anyone. Neither Jew, Palestinian nor Christian.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.