Few people—except for a few hopeful diplomats—now dispute the sad fact that the much-touted Mideast road map has been shredded and currently lies in tatters. Phase one of this path, more or less calling for an immediate end to terror and violence, is already way behind schedule. The transition phase (June 2003-December 2003) has never made it off the ground and the final phase—ending the conflict altogether (2004-2005)—remains totally out of sight.
If, as Mideast analyst Daniel Pipes maintains, "the year 2002 will be remembered as a low point in the long conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, when diplomacy came to a standstill, emotion boiled over, blood ran in the streets, and the prospects for all-out war drew closer"—how will we remember the events of 2003?
In the early 1990s I was asked to travel to Israel and write an on-the-spot cover article about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. Sadly, events soon sabotaged the project. Conditions became so violent that I was not allowed to enter Israel.
All through the 90s violence ebbed and flowed until we reached the time of the present bloody intifada, begun more than 21/2 years ago. The last year has been marked by the ever-increasing use of the suicide bomber, a gruesome terror tool that has enabled a handful of Palestinians to inflict enormous psychological as well as physical damage on Israelis.
As Foreign Affairs (July-August 2002) puts it, "Both Islamists and secular Palestinians have come to see suicide bombing as a weapon against which Israel has no comprehensive defense." And indeed, how can people defend themselves against a young man (or woman) who believes he will be rewarded in the afterlife if he blows himself to pieces while trying to take with him as many Israeli bystanders as possible?
Yasser Arafat and the present crisis
The grim news of the latest round of suicide bombings indicates that current conditions will be made even worse by the recent resignation of the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, after only four months in office.
Also known as Abu Mazen, upon assuming office he had strongly indicated that he would "seek to disarm terrorist groups attacking Israeli targets," saying that "there is no room for weapons except in the hands of the government" (The Daily Telegraph, April 30).
But apparently Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat so effectively undermined the efforts of Mahmoud Abbas that he felt unable to carry on. (This is not to say that Mr. Abbas would have taken appropriate and right steps if he had been free to. The point is that he was never given a chance.)
In May, political analyst and columnist Charles Krauthammer was blunt in his assessment of President Arafat: "As long as Yasser Arafat wields power, there can and will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians" (Wall Street Journal Europe, May 12).
The veteran columnist wrote of the folly of attempting a "road map to peace" with Arafat still exercising enormous power over Palestinian security policy, however covertly.
From the outset of the plan, Washington's peace strategy was based on the hoped-for success of Mr. Abbas in standing up to Arafat and persuading extremist groups to cease terror operations. But events have proven that excessive dependence on any one player in the Mideast is a formula for severe disappointment if not disaster.
In an analysis in the London Times, Richard Beeston observed that "the only person who seems to thrive in this environment [of terrorism and violence] is the Palestinian leader. Those close to Arafat report that he lives off adversity" (Sept. 8).
The United States and Israel refuse to negotiate directly with Yasser Arafat. And the new prime minister, Ahmed Qureia—although apparently somewhat acceptable personally—is still under the thumb of Mr. Arafat. Within weeks of assuming office he, too, threatened to resign, chafing at Arafat's interference, especially in disputes over Palestinian military forces.
One of the most intractable Western problems in dealing with the Mideast conflict is the lack of a united front. The EU has made it abundantly clear that it will maintain European links with Arafat.
According to the International Herald Tribune (Sept. 1), "Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, rejected Israeli demands ... to sever contacts with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and criticized the path of a wall being built along the West Bank." His terse comment was: "We will continue contacts with ... the Palestinian President."
Although some prominent Israeli politicians would like to kill Arafat or see him exiled from the Middle East, the United States currently sees no point in making him a martyr and maintains that he might be able to exercise even more influence if he were exiled abroad.
As commentator Mark Almond wrote in the Daily Mail (Sept. 8), "America's repeated attempts to sideline Arafat have merely restored his tarnished credibility as a national champion among the long-suffering Palestinians." Sadly, boomerang and backfire have become the figurative watchwords describing failed attempts to influence events in the Mideast conflict.
No way out?
This region of the world has a long history of biting back. The biblical prophet Zechariah, foretelling Jerusalem's place in world affairs in the end time, describes the city as "a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples"—capable of making them lose all reason and rationality in dealing with it.
He also described Jerusalem as "a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces ..." (Zechariah 12:2-3 Zechariah 12:2-3  Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
American King James Version×). His descriptions aptly apply to today's grim situation.
The road map ahead appears bleak and bloody. What are the responsible parties among the Israelis and Palestinians to do? At times under virtual occupation due to severe warlike conditions instituted in response to terrorist attacks, the average Palestinian citizen has suffered enormously since Palestinian leaders launched the present bloody intifada. Unemployment, malnutrition and poverty have mushroomed. Regrettably, most Palestinians stand fully behind the Palestinian leadership. Indeed, the vast majority support suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians.
Meanwhile, Israelis live in fear of such simple activities as going to a cafe for an evening meal, shopping or taking a bus ride. Their economy, too, is in terrible shape, taking a beating from loss of tourist income and regular terrorist assaults.
Israeli sufferings penetrate far back into history. During the time of the biblical judges, one of the bloodiest and most violent times in Israel's long experience, periods of peace were measured in fairly long respites between periodic oppressions by other national groups like the Philistines.
For instance, "The land had peace for eighty years" (Judges 3:30 Judges 3:30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.
American King James Version×, New International Version); "Then the land had peace forty years" (Judges 5:31 Judges 5:31So let all your enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.
American King James Version×, NIV); "During Gideon's lifetime, the land enjoyed peace forty years" (Judges 8:28 Judges 8:28Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.
American King James Version×, NIV). Viewing those ancient times from our present perspective, Israel sometimes had peace for fairly long periods.
By contrast, in today's climate even a long weekend of relative peace counts as a welcome respite in the land of Israel. There is virtually no rest from the present war of nerves.
The historic lesson of Judges
During the time of the biblical judges, ancient Israel's frequent bad behavior got them into serious trouble with God. Nonetheless, it is written that, when they cried out to their Creator, "the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them" (Judges 2:18 Judges 2:18And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.
American King James Version×, NIV).
Over a period of a few hundred years God responded to their national plight again and again by raising up various judges like Jephthah, Deborah, Ehud and Samson. God enabled these deliverers to rescue the Israelites from their various oppressors.
Is there a historical parallel today? Yes. Only this time God is going to send the true Messiah—Jesus Christ of Nazareth—to deliver not only the Middle East, but ultimately all nations, from their many and multifaceted mega-problems engendered by their own Satan-influenced human nature.
Obligations of Israel—and all nations
Notwithstanding the appalling conduct of Palestinian leaders and terrorist groups, American playwright Arthur Miller notes that Israel "has betrayed its biblical ideals" (The Times, July 15). I have made substantial journalistic visits to Israel three times in the last 27 years, and each time I found considerable evidence to confirm Miller's broad conclusion— primarily in the arena of individual conduct.
Anciently God used the Jewish peoples to preserve the Hebrew Bible and in the process to proclaim the Ten Commandments to mankind (Romans 3:1-2 Romans 3:1-2  What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
 Much every way: chiefly, because that to them were committed the oracles of God.
American King James Version×). Therefore citizens of the state of Israel have an ongoing obligation to live by God's great spiritual law, as the apostle Paul pointed out to the Jewish community in the second chapter of the book of Romans. And the Palestinians must come to recognize that murder, terrorism and corrupt leadership are building blocks only for disaster, not for a nation that will be accepted by the world community.
Ultimately national repentance is the only way out both for Israel and the Palestinians—and for that matter all nations on the face of the earth.
But whatever their national choices, God is still going to send Jesus Christ back to earth. And this time He will come with a real and workable road map to peace, one described by the biblical prophets thousands of years ago, and the means to enforce it.
He will bring to the world a thousand years of peace and prosperity—truly utopian conditions that continue to prove impossible for men and women to achieve during this present age. GN