On Dec. 23, 2016, the United States government chose to abstain in a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” The resolution, which passed in a 14-0 vote, stated that Israel’s settlement activity constituted a “flagrant violation” of international law and had “no legal validity.”
The vote was denounced immediately by Israel. A senior Israeli official accused the Obama administration of abandoning the Jewish state by its refusal to block the resolution through its veto authority, as America had done with numerous prior resolutions.
However, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) was pleased by the results of the vote. General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti stated, “This is a victory for the people and for the cause, and it opens doors wide for the demand of sanctions on settlements” (CNN, Dec. 24, 2016).
Reaction by many U.S. Republicans, Democrats and various Jewish leaders was sharply critical of the U.S. action. On Dec. 24 Donald Trump, then president-elect, tweeted, “The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace.”
Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry explained in a speech on Dec. 28 that the Obama administration believed settlements were an obstacle to peace. He stated that a moratorium on Israeli settlement growth on the West Bank would make it easier for Palestinian negotiators to reach a compromise position. However, Israel had previously tested that theory in November 2009 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a 10-month freeze on new housing construction. The result was that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remained inflexible and refused to negotiate.
While the acrimony over the UN resolution indicates that conflict rather than peace will continue in the immediate days and years ahead, what does Bible prophecy explain will ultimately take place? What’s ahead for Israel?
Before answering these questions let’s review important facts about the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
A century ago this year, in the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, Great Britain became the first world power to endorse the establishment in the Holy Land of a “national home for the Jewish people.” After a long series of events that followed, Israel declared its independence in 1948. Since then the tiny nation, comparable in size to New Jersey (the fifth-smallest U.S. state), has been under steady assault and intense pressure by hostile neighbors and other foreign powers.
The core problem regarding tensions between Israelis and Arabs is that it’s widely held among Muslims that Jews have no legitimate claim to the Holy Land. Sharia (Islamic law) states that non-Muslims, including Jews, are not permitted to have rule over what is considered Muslim territory. So to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” is categorically impossible.
To illustrate this point, Hamas, the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization that rules Gaza, states in its charter that “the Islamic Resistance Movement regards Palestine as an Islamic Waqf [an inalienable religious endowment] consecrated for future generations until Judgment Day.” Also, Abbas, head of the PA government over the West Bank, stated on Egypt’s Dream2 TV on Oct. 23, 2011, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state’” (emphasis added throughout).
So exactly how is Israel to make peace in a “two-state” solution when leaders of the other would-be state deny Israel’s right to exist?
While Muslims claim the Holy Land and Jerusalem as their own, this is clearly contradicted by history. Jerusalem was in fact made the capital of the Jewish people by King David in about 1000 B.C., some 16 centuries before Muhammad began the religion of Islam after receiving his first supposed revelation in 610 A.D. Archaeological evidence abundantly testifies to the long Jewish presence in Jerusalem way before Islam’s founding.
What about the Palestinians?
The ancestors of what are today called Palestinians never actually occupied Jerusalem until it was taken from the Crusaders in Saladin’s wars of conquest in 1187 A.D.—more than 2,000 years after David made it Israel’s capital. Additionally, there has never been a “Palestinian” people owning a land of “Palestine.” For centuries leading up to the end of World War I, the Holy Land was part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled from Turkey. From 1920 to 1948 it was administered by Britain as part of a League of Nations mandate and called “Palestine”—named after the ancient Roman Empire’s designation for the area.
Additionally, at no time was Jerusalem ever the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied much of Jerusalem and the surrounding area from 1948 to 1967, they never sought to make it a Muslim capital. Furthermore, prior to the Six-Day War of 1967, the Arabs in the West Bank were considered Jordanians and those in Gaza were considered Egyptians because Jordan and Egypt ruled those territories.
In light of all this, it’s not difficult to understand why a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has remained out of reach. Although the recent UN resolution condemned Israel’s building of “settlements” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the underlying problem is Israel’s right to govern the Holy Land. Again, this is considered totally unacceptable to most Muslims.
In this regard, how does Israel actually govern as a Jewish state—compared to all its neighboring Arab states? Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East where all citizens, including its Arab inhabitants, enjoy full legal rights. Israel has Arab government officials, Arab judges and an Arab supreme court justice. It is one of very few countries in the Middle East where Arab women have the right to vote and have legal standing equal to men. Arab citizens of Israel generally have more rights than the Arab inhabitants of most Arab countries!
In contrast, while the term of PA President Abbas actually ended in 2009, he has refused to authorize elections since it could result in him being removed from power. He simply refuses to leave office. Moreover, Hamas, having won elections in Gaza in 2006, has not allowed voting since that time. So which of these undemocratic government entities should Israel sit down with to negotiate “peace”—especially since both have long supported and actively engaged in terrorism?
As an interesting note about the contrast in governing methods between Israel and surrounding Arab states, much has been made of the Arab refugees who fled the land of Israel in the 1948 and 1967 wars. However, little is ever mentioned about the similar number of Jewish refugees forced to leave everything behind in Arab countries, who were welcomed to Israel. Additionally, Palestinian refugees have never been welcomed into the fellow Arab nations to which they fled, nor have they been given basic citizenship rights in these nations.
As a result of all this, the Palestinians and allied Arab and Muslim countries have perpetuated the contentious situation rather than acting in good faith to resolve it. For example, Israel discovered in December 2000 following the Camp David II Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that even proposing trading “land for peace” does not work. In this instance Israel had offered to surrender 95 percent or more of the land the Palestinians demanded, only to be completely rebuffed.
To further aggravate circumstances, Arab land sales to Israelis in Palestinian Authority-controlled territories are outlawed and can be punishable by death. This feeds into the narrative, threatened repeatedly by Arab political leaders, that any future “Palestinian” state will be Jew-free—i.e., ethnically cleansed of Jews and other non-Muslims.
In addition, intransigence against any peace settlement with Israel was obvious on a grand scale when Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 and the Gaza Strip in 2005. Terrorist attacks against Israel didn’t stop as a result of these unilateral “land for peace” Israeli withdrawals, but in fact intensified.
Such steps accomplished nothing because, again, the issue is Israel’s very existence. This is made clear in both the Palestinian National Covenant and the Hamas Charter, which call for violent jihad until Israel is no more.
For example, Article 9 of the Palestinian Covenant (1968) states: “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it.”
While Palestinian National Authority leaders disavow this and similar articles in discussions with Western leaders, the troubling fact remains that the legally required vote to remove these official positions has never been taken—leaving them still part of the Palestinian Covenant.
Also, Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states: “So-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad [armed struggle against unbelievers]. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”
Furthermore, Article 15 states: “When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.”
While this is a grim scenario regarding any chance for peace under current circumstances, what does the Bible tell us will occur in the future? What is to become of the state of Israel? Although there will continue to be tension and outbreaks of terrorism and violence in the region, Scripture reveals that a major military peril will come from an unexpected source.
What does Bible prophecy indicate about the future?
Bible prophecy explains that in the years ahead, a reincarnation of the ancient Roman Empire will arise in Europe. Revelation 17 explains that an end-time coalition of 10 leaders of nations or groups of nations will emerge in Europe led by a tyrant known in biblical language as “the Beast.” This powerful leader is also described in Daniel 11 as the last in a succession of rulers designated as “the king of the North.”
Various prophecies tell us that, in response to an action or attack precipitated from what Scripture describes as a final “king of the South”—likely a coming leader who will unite much of the Muslim world—this restored Roman Empire will “at the time of the end” launch an invasion into North Africa and the Middle East (Daniel 11:40).
Daniel’s prophecy reveals that many nations in that area will then be totally overrun and subjugated by the Beast’s military forces. This includes Arab countries as well as modern-day Israel, which will be vanquished just as Judea was conquered around 2,000 years ago by the ancient Roman Empire (verse 41). How all this will come about we don’t yet know, but tremendous geopolitical changes will take place in the future. These could very well result in having the shield of protection that the United States has always provided Israel utterly removed.
Jesus Christ prophesied that at the end of this age, Jerusalem and its environs will undergo horrible, destructive times. The city will be “surrounded by armies” during these coming “days of vengeance” (Luke 21:20-22). There will be “great distress” in the land, and people will be forced into captivity and slavery as Jerusalem is “trampled by Gentiles”—non-Israelites (Luke 21:23-24). The prophet Daniel described this dreadful period as “a time of trouble”—the worst in all of world history (Daniel 12:1). Jesus said the same, calling this period the time of “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21).
Various prophecies reveal the length of the occupation of Israel and the region. An angel disclosed to Daniel that it will be “a time, times and half a time”—3½ years (Daniel 12:7; see also Revelation 11:2). Prophecy indicates that besides the “children of Judah,” other modern-day descendants of the ancient house of Israel—including the United States, Britain and other countries—will suffer total humiliation and national defeat as a result of their sins (Hosea 5:5). But the Bible focuses significant attention on Jerusalem. It will be the epicenter of a supreme battle for global domination (Zechariah 14:1-2).
As the conflict worsens, humanity will find itself on the razor edge of total annihilation. But then, the Eternal God will intervene in global events suddenly and mightily (Revelation 11:15). Jesus Christ will return from heaven with a massive angelic army, joined by His resurrected followers, to save humanity. The Bible reveals that at His second coming the world’s great armies will break off their attacks against one another and will instead concentrate their destructive energies against Jesus Christ in a final cataclysmic battle for world domination.
The result will be what the Bible calls “the battle of that great day of God Almighty,” often incorrectly described as the battle of Armageddon—that being the place where armies will gather just before (Revelation 16:14-16). Jesus will stop the monstrous destruction and suffering inflicted on the world by the Beast and his allies. He will utterly annihilate their armies and will deliver Jerusalem and the surrounding areas from his control (Joel 3:9-15; Zechariah 14:1-4).
Israel will dwell safely
The Jewish people will at last recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah—and will deeply mourn and repent, then being given God’s Spirit (Zechariah 12:10-14).
Moreover, Christ will gather the remnants of all the 12 tribes of Israel to the Promised Land from captivity and slavery and will establish God’s government over the entire earth (Jeremiah 23:3-8; Daniel 2:44). Jerusalem will become His global headquarters and will serve as a brilliant example of truth and righteousness (Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 8:3).
The prophet Zechariah reveals that eventually people of all nations “shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zechariah 8:22). Also remarkably, “In those days, ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23). Besides that, God prophesied through Jeremiah the joyful condition of the Jews and their brother nations during that coming, amazing period: “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely” (Jeremiah 23:6).
But between now and then, before all these breathtaking events transpire, God foretells that we will see intense conflict and great sorrow in Israel and neighboring countries and throughout the entire world: “And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:3).
Nevertheless, following that terrible time, Jesus Christ will establish true peace in Israel and all nations. Let us look forward to and pray for the fulfillment of that wonderful day!