Peace in the Middle East?

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In spite of the worst rift between America and Israel in years, the long-awaited dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, suspended since December 2008, finally gets underway in "indirect proximity talks."

American Middle East envoy George Mitchell struggled to relaunch peace talks for more than a year. Hopes are that Israel and the Palestinians will find a pathway back to direct negotiations leading to a peace agreement within 24 months, which includes a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel.

Rocky start

America's deteriorating relationship with its longtime ally and the only democracy in the region was exacerbated by a bitter diplomatic feud that erupted during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel. The Israeli government approved plans to build 1,600 new homes in a Jewish suburb located in east Jerusalem, which is an area Palestinians want for their capital.

The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship (between U.S. and Israel) and counter to the spirit of the vice president's trip" ("Clinton Rebukes Israel Over East Jerusalem Plans, Cites Damage to Bilateral Ties," March 13, 2010).

Reuters news agency revealed that "in unusually blunt language," Clinton called Israel's behavior "insulting." Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren was quoted as saying the relationship is in a "crisis of historic proportions" and at a 35-year low. "Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975" ("Israeli Envoy Sees 'Historic Crisis' With U.S.: Report," March 15, 2010).

The cooling and shifting U.S.-Israeli relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel's international isolation. Anger is growing in Europe in the wake of Israel's suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

Britain responded by expelling from the country an Israeli diplomat suspected of being a member of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

Reasons for optimism?

In spite of the rocky start to negotiations some observers see reasons for optimism. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) gave its President Mahmoud Abbas the go ahead to take part in the indirect talks but warned they would pull out after four months if progress is not made.

The Arab League, an organization of 22 Arab states, also provided an "umbrella" of support under which the PLO president can proceed.

There is a growing role and professionalism with the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, reducing violence and allowing Israel to gradually hand over some security duties and to remove some road blocks. The West Bank is experiencing improved economic activity and a building from the ground up of some institutions needed for self government.

Also, for the first time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to Palestinian statehood. And he imposed a 10-month moratorium on building Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, with the exception of east Jerusalem.

Constant turmoil

Over the past three decades there has been more than a half dozen peace initiatives between the Palestinians and Israel but none has resulted in peace, with violations occurring on both sides.

Reciprocal violence has checkered Israel's nearly 62-year history. The most recent multiyear conflict was the "Second Intifadah," which means "shaking off" in Arabic. This Palestinian uprising of intensified Palestinian-Israeli violence began in late September 2000.

My wife and I had just arrived in Israel as the new conflict broke out. Large crowds at the airport were clamoring to leave the country. Jerusalem's old city was blocked by barricades and rifle toting Israeli soldiers. Israeli guards at road check points were on high alert. After a few days it became evident that a protracted conflict was developing and we felt it necessary to leave to ensure our safety.

The Palestinians viewed this Second Intifada as an ongoing struggle for national liberation, justice and an end to Israeli occupation. But many Israelis considered it just another wave of Palestinian terrorism instigated and pre-planned by then PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in response to his walking out on negotiations at the Camp David Summit in July 2000.

U.S. President Bill Clinton had hosted two weeks of intensive discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. The two sides came closer to terms than ever before but no final agreement was reached. The four emotionally charged obstacles that divided them still remain: agreement on territory; the status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount; the right of return of Palestinian refugees; and Israeli security concerns regarding violence, terrorism and safe borders.

In 2004 the Second Intifada ended with Yasser Arafat's sickness and death in November. The Palestinians lost their momentum for the intifada and their internationally recognized leader for the previous three decades. The estimated loss of life from the uprising was 5,500 Palestinians, over 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreign citizens.

The newly elected Palestinian PLO President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to end the fighting. Internal fighting quickly broke out between the two largest Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Meanwhile Israel announced a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in June 2004 and completed its withdrawal in August 2005

Palestinians divided

Today the deep division continues between Hamas and Fatah making a united agreement with Israel that much more difficult.

Fatah was founded in 1954 by Palestinians who had been refugees in the Gaza Strip. Their founders included Yasser Arafat who became the most dominant leader of the Palestinians.

In the early years of their revolutionary struggle Fatah conducted many guerrilla attacks on Israel. But they are no longer regarded as a terrorist organization by any government. They are still headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas was formed in Gaza in 1987 by the Muslim Brotherhood with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in "Palestine." From 1993 to 2005, Hamas carried out many suicide bombings in Israel. They have never acknowledged Israel's right to exist and are still considered a terrorist organization by most nations.

Hamas won the last Palestinian general election in the Gaza Strip in 2006. In a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007, Hamas completely ousted Fatah from Gaza. The Palestinian Authority was effectively split in two, with Hamas in complete control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank. Hamas continues to refuse to sign an Egyptian reconciliation proposal agreed to by Fatah.

Hamas ended its truce with Israel in 2007 by firing homemade rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory. Eventually Israel responded by forcibly entering Gaza and the three-week Gaza war ensued killing 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers.

About a year ago, Israeli tanks rumbled out of a devastated Gaza Strip accompanied by a volley of rockets. Today Hamas is beginning to regain its strength but Gaza remains in tatters. No reconstruction has begun and Israeli and Egyptian blockades are in place in the poor and crowded territory of 1.5 million Palestinians.

Hamas opposes current peace efforts of America and the "Quartet"—the United States, Russia, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations. The Quartet envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, told Ynet News that Hamas "can either be part of this process or they can carry on in a position of isolation" ("Blair: Words Won't Create Trust," March 11, 2010).

Some Israelis are concerned Hamas may violently overtake the West Bank as it did Gaza, if a new Palestinian state is created.

On the other hand, if peace efforts fail The Economist magazine suggests, "mistrust between Palestinians and Israelis will rise, perhaps even sparking another intifada (uprising) like the one that erupted after talks at Camp David failed in 2000" ("More Than Just a Charade?" March 11, 2010).

Jerusalem—center of controversy

The recent diplomatic feud over Netanyahu's refusal to stop building in east Jerusalem reflects the emotionally charged controversies that surround the city. Netanyahu says he will never allow the partitioning of the city. Yet the annexation of east Jerusalem by Israel after the 1967 Mideast War has never been recognized internationally.

The Palestinians complain that the growing settlements take up more and more of the land they want as their capital and make partition increasingly difficult. Today, nearly 180,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah predicted how troublesome Jerusalem would become. "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples…a very heavy stone for all peoples" (Zechariah 12:2-3 Zechariah 12:2-3 [2] 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. [3] 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×
, emphasis added throughout).

Jesus Christ's predictions and Old and New Testament prophecies reveal that Jerusalem will eventually be divided again, violently traumatized, with at least part of it falling under the rule of non-Israeli gentiles (Luke 21:20-24 Luke 21:20-24 [20] And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near. [21] Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the middle of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. [22] For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. [23] But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath on this people. [24] And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
; Zechariah 14:2 Zechariah 14:2For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 11:1-2 Revelation 11:1-2 [1] And there was given me a reed like to a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. [2] But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
American King James Version×
).

EU more involved

The current peace efforts are likely to continue the "road map" for peace that was first outlined in July of 2002 by the Quartet.

The EU, Israel's largest trading partner, is taking a more active role in the peace process as reported by NewEurope. EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek met with Palestinian President Abbas and reinforced their commitment. "We are active in the Quartet and advocating a particular solution. We are also active by being in contact with both sides...and the EU is the biggest humanitarian aid supplier in the region" ("Palestinian Leader Tours Brussels, Paris," Feb. 24, 2010).

The EU's new Lisbon Treaty created the diplomatic office of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In December Catherine Ashton became its director. She made her presence felt in a trip to the Middle East that included a visit to Gaza, as reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. "Israel faced new international pressure…with a visit by Lady Ashton, the European Union's new foreign policy chief.

"Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, asked Ashton for EU intervention to put pressure on Israel to freeze building in the settlements and Jerusalem. Earlier she held talks in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan…" ("Israel Faces New Pressure as Lady Ashton Visits Gaza," March 18, 2010).

Since her trip she has called for the settlements to stop. The EU has "condemned" them as "illegal" and undermining peace efforts.

Persuasive peace broker will come

With America's cooling and shifting alliance with Israel and the EU becoming more involved in the peace process, is the stage being set for the fulfillment of critical end-time prophecies?

Peace efforts over the past three decades have time and again revealed how complicated and intractable the multisided, emotionally charged divisions can be. At times they appear to defy human ability to solve.

Bible prophecy reveals that a leader with supernatural capabilities will arise, probably from Europe, and usher in a pseudo peace in the region. Armed with persuasive verbal skills, his manipulative and sly beast-like craftiness will be empowered by the evil spiritual force that can sway world governments and institutions (Revelation 13:2-8 Revelation 13:2-8 [2] And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. [3] And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. [4] And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him? [5] And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given to him to continue forty and two months. [6] And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. [7] And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. [8] And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 4:8-9 Matthew 4:8-9 [8] Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; [9] And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
American King James Version×
; 2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×
).

The prophet Daniel describes this cunning leader. "And in the latter time of their kingdom, when transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; he shall destroy fearfully, and shall prosper and thrive…through his cunning, he shall cause deceit to prosper under his rule; and he shall exalt himself in his heart. He shall destroy many in prosperity" (Daniel 8:23-25 Daniel 8:23-25 [23] And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. [24] And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practice, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. [25] And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
American King James Version×
).

Daniel also describes this leader as the "king of the North" and shows his forceful military intervention in the Middle East and rule from Jerusalem (Daniel 11:40-45 Daniel 11:40-45 [40] And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. [41] He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. [42] He shall stretch forth his hand also on the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. [43] But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. [44] But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. [45] And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
American King James Version×
). A group of 10 nations, probably from Europe, will give their power and authority to this "beast" for a short time leading to his world dominance for 42 months (Revelation 17:11-14 Revelation 17:11-14 [11] And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition. [12] And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. [13] These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast. [14] These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version×
; 13:7-8).

But Jesus Christ will intervene to put down this ruler and his armies (Zechariah 14:12 Zechariah 14:12And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand on their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 19:11-21 Revelation 19:11-21 [11] And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. [12] His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. [13] And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. [14] And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. [15] And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. [16] And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. [17] And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the middle of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together to the supper of the great God; [18] That you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. [19] And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. [20] And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. [21] And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
American King James Version×
). And at long last, Christ will begin His rule from Jerusalem ushering in a thousand years of peace on earth (Zechariah 14:16 Zechariah 14:16And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 20:2-3 Revelation 20:2-3 [2] And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, [3] And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 2:2-4 Isaiah 2:2-4 [2] And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. [3] And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [4] And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×
). WNP

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