When it comes to Israel, nearly all evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
But what does it mean after a fiercely contested election?
President Donald Trump will soon propose his vision of practical exegesis.
Two years in the making, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is slated to be released soon, now that Israel has reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party secured a virtual tie with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but Bibi’s right-wing coalition will push him over the top.
Neither leading candidate made the peace process with Palestinians a major plank of their campaign as the entire Israeli electorate has shifted to the right, emphasizing security over negotiation.
Other American presidents have tried and failed to advance official US policy of a two-state solution. But while Trump has brought a new energy—and unpredictability—to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he may face two very skeptical partners.
Even so, Trump has shaken the system.
Last year in May, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.
In February, he stopped US funding to Palestinian aid programs.
Last month, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
And more than any president prior, he has courted evangelical opinion. LifeWay Research shows that 67 percent of American adults with evangelical beliefs have positive perceptions toward Israel, with 80 percent believing Abraham’s covenant is for all time.
But while analysts have panned Trump’s decisions as decidedly one-sided against the Palestinians, he has dangled his own deal-making reputation as—at times—a warning to the Israelis.
“Israel will have to pay a higher price,” he said after ordering the embassy’s relocation, for the Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”
What does Trump expect? And will it cost him his carefully cultivated evangelical support?
Details of his plan have not been publicly released, but in February US officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt toured Arab capitals seeking support.
A month later Greenblatt, Trump’s chief legal officer and special representative for international negotiations, checked in with US evangelicals in a special meeting at the White House.
Axios reported that several “raised concerns.”
CT surveyed 11 evangelical leaders—7 from the US and 4 from the Middle East—to take their pulse on expectations and gauge their red lines.
“Don’t divide Jerusalem, It would disappoint me if that was President Trump’s decision,” said Skip Heitzig, senior pastor of Calvary Church, Albuquerque, who has led 40 tours to Israel. “It would be a nightmare, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere near there.”
Heitzig, not present with Greenblatt but who discussed matters subsequently in person with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, conveyed his sense that evangelical opinion mattered to the administration.
A registered independent, Heitzig says he makes his political choices based on the totality of issues. The Bible was forged in real-life politics, and he could live with a two-state solution as long as it doesn’t militarize Palestine. He believes Trump is leaning that way.
Yet he quoted Joel 3 about God’s judgment coming to those who divide the land.
“Israel has a right to exist, and a right to give away whatever they want,” Heitzig said. “But biblically and politically, it would be a mistake.”
Novelist Joel Rosenberg, a founding member of the Alliance for Jerusalem, was at the Greenblatt meeting but offers other biblical counsel.
“Israel should not be carved up like a turkey,” he said. “But Abraham, who was given the original grant, divided it with Lot to separate and achieve peace.
“I don’t hear evangelicals talking about this, but making compromises for peace is a biblical approach.”
Rosenberg is especially encouraged by Trump’s outreach to Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf. He encourages evangelicals to give the president room to maneuver.
“I have no expectations of an Israeli-Palestinian deal in the near term,” Rosenberg said, citing the intransigent stance of Mahmoud Abbas. “If that is the immediate goal, then I have no hope Trump’s plan will succeed.
“But if a well-constructed plan has the goal of revealing that the Palestinians have no intention to negotiate, other Arab leaders may say we don’t want to wait for their leadership any longer.”
As Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel, Arab Gulf nations may also decide it is in their national interest, he said.
Kushner and Greenblatt toured the Gulf to discuss Palestinian economic incentives. Anticipated are plans to create jobs, generate electricity, and desalinate water.
Rosenberg, who has also led evangelical delegations to the Arab world, senses a new willingness by Gulf Arab leaders to engage Israel. Part of this is motivated by their desire to openly do business with Israel and have access to innovative Israeli technology, he says. It’s equally borne out of a shared fear of Iran, whose sponsorship of Shiite militancy is a bigger threat to peace in the majority-Sunni region than the Palestinian issue.
Not having ties with Tel Aviv was a “wrong decision,” said a senior official in the United Arab Emirates, according to Abu Dhabi-based daily The National.
Rosenberg can live with a Palestinian capital in parts of East Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis where the Palestinians have already built a parliament. But he calls the Old City a red line. Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount are to be shared and perhaps administered jointly, but Israel must retain security control.
“The real question is not about what more Israel can give,” Rosenberg said, “But if Palestinians can accept Israel as a Jewish state and neighbor, and not hold out for the high-water mark offers they previously rejected, multiple times.”
Mitch Glaser, president of the New York-based Chosen People Ministries, a Messianic outreach to Jews, senses that evangelicals will be “profoundly disappointed” if the Trump proposal offers to trade land for peace.
But his takeaway from the LifeWay survey is that Trump needs to also address the 41 percent who say Israel, while having a biblical right to the land, also has a responsibility to share, as well as the 59 percent who say Christians should do more to love and care for the Palestinian people.
“I think evangelicals hope that Palestinians get a fair deal,” he said, “and if they don’t, they’ll be concerned.”
Glaser does not support a two-state solution, but he can live with it. For while there is a large faction of evangelicals who cannot, he says many Jewish believers in Jesus see the divided nations as the best way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state.
But not forever.
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Source: Christianity Today