Five critical questions we need to ask during the Mideast peace process.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh (right) and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho (left) at the formal resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013 (photo credit: Official White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy/Times of Israel)

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh (right) and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho (left) at the formal resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013 (photo credit: Official White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy/Times of Israel)

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process restarted this week, and this is a good thing. We all want peace in the Middle East. We all want Israelis and Palestinians — Jews, Muslims, Christians, and those of other faiths, and those of no faith — to be able to live with security, freedom, dignity, opportunity, justice, and hope for the future.

As Christians, let us not be cynical or scared about the process, or where it might lead. Rather, let us pray and ask the Lord to give humility and courage to all of the Jewish and Arab leaders and people in the region to truly reach out a hand of friendship and kindness to their neighbors and their long-time enemies in the name of peace.

  • The Psalmist told us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).
  • The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

So let us obey the Word of God. Let us pray for peace, and for the would-be peacemakers, and let us also pray for patience. This conflict goes back to the Biblical times of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. It is, at its core, a spiritual conflict, not merely a geopolitical one. It has never been easy or simple to solve, and it won’t be so now.

Let us also pray for the leaders and people of the region, and all those involved in the process, to truly have wisdom from above — God’s wisdom — the insight and ability to make the right decisions at the right time in the right way.

To this end, I believe it is vital that we ask five critical questions as the peace process begins:

First, what is the best way to balance competing priorities? Helping the Israelis and Palestinians meet and discuss the “final status issues” and chart a peaceful, respectful path forward is (and should be) a very high priority for U.S. diplomats. But there are other high priorities competing for the U.S.’s attention.

  • Example: The Iranian Threat — Iran is steadily moving towards becoming a state with nuclear weapons. Stopping Iran from getting The Bomb is, I would argue, the number one priority we have. Are the White House and State Department investing enough time and energy to accomplish this critical objective at the moment, or are they creating a situation in which the Israelis feel they may have to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities — and soon — because the rest of the world isn’t acting decisively?
  • Example: The Syrian Implosion — More than 100,000 people have already died in the Syrian civil war. There are credible allegations that chemical weapons have been used. The U.S. is contemplating the use of military force in Syria (no-fly zones, arming the “rebels,” etc). The Russians, however, are standing closely with the Assad regime. So are the Iranians and Hezbollah. Given the high stakes in Syria, in the U.S. devoting enough time and energy to make wise decisions vis-à-vis Syria?
  • Example: The Egyptian coup d’état — The Egyptian military has just seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood, arrested President Morsi, and installed a temporary government. The military says it will eventually hold elections and draft a new constitution, one explicitly not based on Islamic Sharia law. Are we giving enough time and energy to monitoring the volatility in this important country, and helping the new leaders steer the country away from Islamic Radicalism, and away from military authoritarianism, towards true freedom, peace and prosperity?

Second, are we certain that the Palestinian leadership truly wants to make peace? I believe many of the Palestinian people want to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. But real questions have to be asked about Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Third, does the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah truly have the legal authority and legitimacy to sign a peace deal with Israel? We would all like the answer to be yes, but we should not rush to make an assumption. Consider these troublesome facts:

  • Abbas is currently serving the 8th year of a 4 year term. His term expired Jan 15, 2009, yet he refuses to call new elections.
  • Abbas doesn’t control all of the territory that he and the PLO define as “Palestine” — Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
  • Abbas either does not have the power, or refuses to exercise his power, to stop Palestinians once and for all from firing rockets, missiles and mortars at Israelis from Gaza.
Fourth, is the Netanyahu government truly committed to making peace with the Palestinians? The Netanyahu government is deeply divided by Cabinet Members who have very different definitions of what peace should and would look like? Indeed, Netanyahu is rather conflicted, as well. In the past, he has supported autonomy for Palestinians, but not a sovereign state. In recent years, however, he changed his position. Now, he says he is willing to divide the land of Israel to create a sovereign Palestinian state, so long as it is a “demilitarized” state that does not threaten Israel’s national security or Jewish majority. Does Netanyahu and his team have clarity amongst themselves of what they really want to achieve, and have a viable game plan to get there?
 
Fifth, and most importantly, are Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders looking to God and the Bible for wisdom on how to make peace? The Bible is clear that ultimately, the Lord considers the Land of Israel His own land. What’s more, the Lord is very jealous for the Land of Israel, and He warns in the biblical Book of Joel, in chapter three, that every nation that divides the land if Israel will face judgment. Are the leaders of the region taking such Biblical warnings into account as they proceed?
It is not the job of the Church to run the Mideast peace process, or to be cynics, skeptics and naysayers. As Christians, we should want justice and mercy for Jews and Arabs in the region. We should want peace and reconciliation. We should pray faithfully towards this end. We should also teach the Word of God and encourage leaders on all sides to fully consider everything that God has to say, and to follow the principles in the Scriptures, not to defy or disobey them.
Let us be faithful in this task, and trust our sovereign Lord to make all things work out for His glory, and for the good of the people in the epicenter.
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