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Middle East Peace: Back on the Table?

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President Barack Obama, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands before peace talks on Sept. 22, 2009. After four years of silence, Secretary of State John Kerry may have reignited the peace talks process (Official White House photo by Samantha Appleton).

John Kerry recently announced a potential breakthrough in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Could these talks lead to peace in the Middle East?

The talk about “peace talks” has started again. The last few days have brought a flurry of news from the Middle East about renewed efforts at Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry established a temporary headquarters in Amman, Jordan, from which he worked tirelessly, shuttling back and forth between Ramallah, the Palestinian center of government in the West Bank; Jerusalem, where most of Israel’s government is based; and Amman, where Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II sits anxiously, watching as the half-open window to a two-state solution may be closing.

Rumors

Mr. Kerry appears to have pulled off something of a breakthrough and may be on the verge of getting peace talks restarted, after four years of impasse. He appears to have received private commitments from both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, which may serve to bring the parties to the negotiating table. Mr. Abbas is rumored to have acquiesced to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, within the 1967 borders, while Mr. Netanyahu is said to have agreed to a temporary halt to new Israeli settlements and to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank.

However, lower-level Israeli officials are denying the rumors of Netanyahu’s willingness to make concessions (“Hopes for Peace Talks Buzz in Israel and Palestinian Territories,” July 21, 2013).

Publicly, all parties—Israelis, Palestinians and Americans—are being very tight-lipped.

Whatever the case, there was a public gesture of goodwill in the form of the announced release of a number of Palestinian prisoners by Israel. Also, Bloomberg is reporting that Secretary Kerry is working on offering a $4 billion investment package for the financially strapped Palestinians. The hope is that the prospect of significant financial aid could prod the Palestinian Authority to make concessions they have long resisted.

Peace on the horizon?

Both sides would face enormous internal dissent for even entering into such renewed discussions. The cynicism and pessimism of many Palestinians was reflected in the tense discussion among Palestinian factions reported to have taken place in Ramallah on July 18. And Mr. Netanyahu would almost certainly face a crumbling of his fractious coalition if he offers concessions deemed unwise and dangerous by some of his more conservative political partners.

Israeli news is already reporting rumblings of one or more factions bolting the coalition over the peace talks, and that Mr. Netanyahu has committed to a national referendum prior to any formalizing of a deal.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority realize they now live in a neighborhood that looks quite different from the way it looked just three years ago. The “Arab Spring,” once so full of promise in the eyes of some, has now soured. Egypt has witnessed a military coup (or “intervention,” depending on one’s point of view) that deposed the Muslim Brotherhood–led government of Mohammed Morsi; the large and sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula is becoming increasingly lawless and hard to govern, with reports of al-Qaeda–allied extremists active there; and Syria remains embroiled in an increasingly bloody civil war, with the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad locked in what resembles a stalemate with Sunni rebels.

What would be the pay-off of a peace treaty? For one thing, retiring Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hopes it might bring increased prosperity in the West Bank and serve to discredit the rival Hamas-controlled and impoverished Gaza Strip, leaving him with an honorable legacy in Palestinian politics.

And Israeli leader Netanyahu would relieve himself of pressure from both the United States and the European Union, which recently banned imports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Both Israel and the United States, as well as many of the Sunni regimes in the Arab world, hope that assuaging the Israeli/Palestinian tensions could calm other dangerous political players in the Middle East by minimizing one of their perpetual reasons for violence and serve as a trigger for a wider peace in the Middle East.

Will this all result in peace? Though it is possible that some sort of temporary, fragile peace may be cobbled together by human efforts, history and prophecy show that any brokered peace agreement is not likely to be successful in the long term. 

Prophetic perspective

From Bible prophecy, we know that the Middle East—particularly the land that is presently the source of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians—will remain tense and subject to warfare right up till the return of Jesus Christ. In the end times, nations are prophesied to be gathered to battle at Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2). Jerusalem will remain an international point of contention up until the Christ’s second coming.

The Bible reveals that Jesus will intervene to stop this warfare in the proximity to Jerusalem and will establish His government in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4-9). Once that happens, there will be true, enduring, just peace for all the peoples of the area.

Let’s keep our eyes on the Middle East. There’s more to come.

To learn more about the history and prophetic future of this contentious location in the Middle East, read the articles in the section “Middle East in Bible Prophecy.”

About the Author

Ralph Levy

Ralph Levy

Ralph Levy is a native of London, England, and now a naturalized citizen of the United States. He works primarily as a professor of theology at Foundation Institute, Center for Biblical Education, in Texas. Foundation Institute is the educational institution of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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