What has happened to the Peace Process?
Only four Israeli government ministers openly declare
support for the two-state solution, according to a poll conducted in June 2016
by Wall News, an Israeli internet news source. Nine are against and the view of
the other seven is unknown. This is a cause of deep concern to those who
believe that the two-state solution is the only viable way forward towards
peace, giving more security to Israel and justice to the Palestinian people.
President Obama said in March 2016: “There's been talk about a one-state solution or sort of a
divided government. It’s hard for me to envision that being stable, there's
such deep distrust between the two peoples right now. And the neighbourhood is
in such a mess that I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best
way.” Similarly, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, warned that current trends
were leading inevitably towards a single state solution and he commented: “The
one-state solution is no solution at all for a Jewish, democratic Israel living
However, the two state solution is still under discussion.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in December 2015 spoke in favour of a middle
way – the establishment of two states (Israeli and Palestinian) in the context
of a confederation. This would involve the two states with two parliaments and
constitutions co-operating closely together. They would have only one army –
the Israel army.
Isaac Herzog, head of the Israeli Labour Party had secret
talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas before the 2015 general election
and they agreed the way forward should be based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
In particular, they agreed that the Palestinians should have an area of land
equivalent to the territory Israel captured during the 1967 war (that would
involve some land swaps); Israel should be able to monitor the border between
Jordan and Israel and there would be a joint counter-terrorism body. However
the agreements were shelved after the election.
In March 2016 Joe Biden, the US Vice President, presented a
plan to Abbas to restart the peace process. It included designating East
Jerusalem as a capital of a future Palestinian state, Israel stopping
settlement construction on the West Bank and the Palestinians giving up the
right of return for refugees to what is now Israel. However Abbas rejected the
plan. Earlier Abbas claimed he had offered to meet Israeli prime minister
Benyamin Netanyahu but Israel didn’t respond.
Netanyahu has often spoken in favour of the Arab Peace
Initiative of 2002 (reaffirmed in 2007) but so far this has been just talk. One
worry he has is what President Obama will do after the November US election
when he will be free from political restraint. Is it possible he might put a
proposal on the Israel-Palestinian issue to the UN Security Council, or refuse
to veto a proposal put by others.
The peace-process was not helped by the appointment of
Avigdor Lieberman as Israeli defence minister in May 2016. Lieberman is a West
Bank settler who wants more settlements to be built. In the past, he vowed
there would never be a Palestinian state. He wanted to re-occupy Gaza and to
transfer Israel’s Palestinian citizens to the West Bank. He also threatened to
assassinate the leader of Hamas and to blow up Egypt’s Aswan dam. However,
after his appointment he spoke in favour of the two-state solution and added: “I
absolutely agree that the Arab [Peace] Initiative also has some very, very
positive elements that enable a serious dialogue with all our neighbours in the
region.” Given his record, many people find it difficult to accept these
And so the Peace Process effectively is on hold, although
some say it is dead. Recent polls have shown that Israelis are now less
supportive of the two-state solution. They are less approving of Israeli
Palestinians having equal rights and are generally more hostile towards
Palestinians and other Arabs.
However France has taken the initiative to discuss with
senior executives from the West and the Arab world the possibility of holding
an international conference later this year to attempt to restart the Peace
There are, naturally, real fears amongst Israelis about the
security situation. There is the violent instability of Syria in the North and
the danger of a future Palestinian state being taken over by ISIS. Some,
including Tony Blair, see the possibility of an alliance of Arab states – Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf states – with a Palestinian state to protect it against
ISIS. This would be to Israel’s advantage but the compromises required by all
parties are daunting. However Netanyahu made it clear in June that Israel will
never accept the original Arab Peace Initiative as it stands because it
requires Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders (as opposed to swapping
territory where deemed necessary), to withdraw from the Golan Heights (adjacent
to Syria) and to allow all Palestinian refugees back into what is now Israel.
The same month the Saudi Foreign Minister rejected Netanyahu’s demand for the
Arab Peace Initiative to be updated. Of course, there could be negotiations.
West Bank development and violence
According to Peace Now, Israel began to build 1800
settlement homes in the West Bank in 2015. In June 2016 the Israeli government
approved an additional $18 million (£12 million) to pay for West Bank
settlements. In July the Israelis approved 800 new homes in East Jerusalem, plus
600 in the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. They also approved 560 new homes
in Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank.
In March 2016 a Pew Research Centre survey found that 42% of
Israelis believed building settlements in the West Bank furthered Israel’s security.
30% thought they were harmful. 48% of Israelis favour the 1.6 million Arabs living
in Israel with Israeli citizenship being expelled or transferred from Israel.
46% opposed that idea. 6% offered no opinion (I find these statistics quite
shocking. 40% of Israelis believe it is possible for Israel to co-exist with a
Palestinian State. A similar number believe it is impossible.
The Middle East Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN) said
that Israel had taken 70% of Area C which
contains 60% of the West Bank, including most of the agricultural land, natural
resources and land reserves. Some 570,000 Israelis now live in settlements. On
the other hand, the Quartet criticised the Palestinians for not “consistently
and clearly” condemning terrorist attacks.
Israel has also drastically cut water supplies to the
Palestinians this summer. It blames the Palestinians for not upgrading its
pipes but the Palestinians deny this is the issue. Under the Oslo Accords
Israel gets 80% of the water from the West Bank aquifer.
Human Rights activists have also criticised Israel for making
Palestinians who need to cross into Israel to work wait in line for hours, in
unbearable conditions. This applies to those with valid work permits.
A number of Israeli teenagers were arrested for an arson
attack on a Palestinian family in 2015. In December 2015 a video was produced
of a hall full of teenagers who were cheering the murder that had taken place of
a Palestinian toddler. They were dancing with guns and firebombs and stabbing
pictures of the toddler.
Palestinians murdered 20 Israelis in 2015 and the Israeli
army killed 116 Palestinians, claiming that 79 of them had been carrying out or
attempting attacks. But recent polls have found that 53.7% of Palestinians
oppose another Intifada (uprising) and 42% support one. Also 69% of
Palestinians support a two-state solution and 24.8% support a single state with
full equality. 82.1% of Palestinians are negative towards ISIS.
Israeli Military Intelligence officials and some politicians
are predicting that the Palestinian Authority is close to collapse. If that
happened Israel would be responsible for the management of the occupied
territories. But it could further undermine any hope of a successful peace
process because Israel may not have an effective partner in that process.
Controversy in Israel
One controversy is over the Israeli ex-soldiers’ group
“Breaking the Silence.” It was founded in 2004 and publishes anonymous
testimonies from Israeli soldiers about alleged abuses against the Palestinian
population. Recently Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon strongly condemned
the group as acting out of malicious motives. He claimed that when the
government tried to investigate allegations from the group “they turned out to
be groundless.” The government is now clamping down on Breaking the Silence and
other human rights groups, forcing them to reveal their sources of funding and
to reveal the names of the soldiers who give them information. The latter
would, of course, greatly reduce the likelihood of soldiers speaking to the
organisation. There has been heated debate in the Israeli parliament with some
members strongly defending Breaking the Silence.
Netanyahu has turned from seeking a centre-left coalition
and instead has linked with the ultra-nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu
(Israel Our Home). Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, has said that the
government’s new direction shows “the seeds of fascism.”
Anti-Christian attitudes in Israel
Benzi Gopstein, head of the extreme right wing Lehava group,
has recently called for the expulsion of Christians from Israel, saying “Let us
remove the vampires before they once again drink our blood.” This led to calls
for legal action against him. Vandals daubed the walls and doors of the
Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem with slogans such as “'Death to the heathen Christians
the enemies of Israel.”
In June 2016 Jewish extremists tried to disrupt Greek
Orthodox Pentecost prayers at the Cenacle (possible site of the Last Supper).
They screamed, booed and shouted: “We will tear down this abomination … you are
evil … May the name of your so-called God be blotted out forever.” One ultra-Orthodox Jewish person said:
“It hurts me that they are letting these goyim (non-Jews) come here. It hurts
me that these evil men, who have oppressed the Jews throughout history, are
being allowed to contaminate our holy sites.
And it hurts me even more that the police, led by our Jewish government,
are allowing them to do so.”
Jewish extremists have defaced churches and Christian
property, desecrated Christian cemeteries, and spat on and verbally abused
priests and monks.
The good news is that, after five years, Israel and Turkey
have reached a reconciliation agreement. Turkey demanded a complete lifting of
the Israeli siege on Gaza, but they settled for Turkish aid to be sent to Gaza
(through Israel’s Ashdod port). Turkey is also to be allowed to build a
hospital, a new power plant and a desalination plant in Gaza. Israel agreed to lift
all restrictions on the supply of equipment, drugs and staff to the hospital. Turkey
agreed to close down Hamas’ military command post in Turkey but will still
allow Hamas offices to operate on its soil, solely for political activity.
Israel has also set up its first diplomatic mission to Abu
Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. However the UAE said this is not a
sign of a changed attitude towards Israel.
On the other hand, Iran recently fired two ballistic missiles
bearing the slogan “Israel must be wiped out.” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of Aerospace Force of the Army of
the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, commented: “The 2,000-kilometre
(1,240-mile) range of our missiles is to confront the Zionist regime. Israel is
surrounded by Islamic countries and it will not last long in a war. It will
collapse even before being hit by these missiles.”
The commander of the Israel Air Force Amir Eshel has warned
that increasing international military deals by Israel’s neighbours could
threaten Israel’s military superiority. Egypt wants to buy advanced Russian
weapons. Syria has access to Russian air defence systems.
In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, said a new
war with Israel would have “no limits, and no red lines.” He added that Hezbollah would target Israel’s
ammonia storage depot in Haifa which “will create the effect of a nuclear
EU and UN attitudes towards Israel
It seems that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated
The EU has voted that products from West Bank settlements
should be labelled so that customers can decide not to buy them.
Ban Ki-moon made strong criticisms of Israel’s policy of
continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, saying they are an affront to
the Palestinian people and adding: “Palestinian frustration is growing under
the weight of a half-century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace
process.” He also questioned Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.
Netanyahu responded: “The UN has long lost its neutrality and moral power;
these comments by the secretary general do little to improve its standing.”
Makarim Wibisono, the UN Human Rights Investigator for Gaza
and the West Bank called on Israel to investigate what he called excessive
force against Palestinians. He added: “The upsurge in violence is a grim
reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied
Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders.” However the Middle
East Quartet angered Palestinian leaders by laying equal – if not greater
–emphasis on Palestinian “incitement” as on Israeli settlement policies.
UNESCO planned to adopt a resolution at its July meeting in
Istanbul declaring the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (the most holy place for
Jewish people) as sacred to “Muslims only.” However the failed coup in Turkey
led to the decision being delayed. The EU favours the resolution. The Israeli
Foreign Ministry commented: “The EU’s proposal continues to deny the Jewish
people’s historic ties to Temple Mount, despite France’s apology in April,
admitting it was wrong to support UNESCO’s decision to address the Temple Mount
only as Al-Aqsa mosque.”
Then, when former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni,
visited London she received a letter from the British police asking her in for
questioning on suspicion of involvement in war crimes during Operation Cast
Lead in Gaza in 2008.
The summons was cancelled after diplomatic contacts between
Israel and Britain, at the end of which Livni received immunity. A recent
survey of British Jewish attitudes to Israel found that 75% regarded expansion
of the settlements as “major obstacle to peace” with 68% admitting to feeling
“a sense of despair” every time there’s a further expansion. Approximately 50%
said they believe the Israeli government is “constantly creating obstacles to
avoid engaging in peace negotiations.” 73% believe this approach is damaging
Israel’s standing in the world.
US attitude towards Israel
The attitude of the US seems to be changing. Younger
Americans tend to look at Israel through the lens of human rights. America has
the second largest Jewish community in the world after Israel and has strongly
supported Israel. But there are signs of
that support reducing, particularly among younger and more liberal Jews. President
Obama has said that the Middle East is less important to the US because
fracking and use of other energy resources reduce American dependence on Middle
East oil. This could, of course, reduce Israel’s importance to the US as an ally
and “the only democracy in the Middle East.” In future America is likely to be
more concerned about ISIS and influence over Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is
also frustration and irritation at the lack of progress in the Peace Process.
If Israel experiences a significant reduction in US support
that could be very serious indeed.
ISIS and Israel
In December 2015 the leader of ISIS, since killed, warned
Israel: “With the help of Allah, We are getting closer to you every day. The
Israelis will soon see us in Palestine. This is no longer a war of the
crusaders against us. The entire world is fighting us right now. The Israelis
thought that we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it. That
is not the case. We have not forgotten Palestine for one moment.” We can debate
the current effectiveness of ISIS but such statements fan the fears of
Comment: I believe the re-establishment of the State of Israel is the
beginning of a fulfilment of biblical prophecy and that God has a purpose for
the Jewish people. I strongly oppose all anti-Semitism, including that which,
perhaps unwittingly, inspires unfair criticism of Israel. The only explanation
of the virulence and persistence of such anti-Semitism is that it is demonic.
However, I also firmly believe that we must pray that Israel will act
in accordance with God’s will (just as we should pray that for our own
countries). Those (including Christians) who are only interested in Israel
possessing ‘the Land,’ whatever that means to her neighbours, are reading the
Bible with one eye shut. Yes, Scripture does foretell the re-establishment of
the state of Israel. But equally it teaches that God is a God of justice and so
requires justice to be shown to the Palestinians. Given terrorism, militant
Islamism and other negative factors, the way to justice and peace is
complicated. But there is no justification for pulling back from the Peace
Process or merely paying lip service to it or superficially blaming the other
side for its failures. Although Palestinian violence must be confronted, there
is no justification for an oppressive oversight of the West Bank.
We must love our Palestinian ‘neighbours’ as well as our Israeli
‘neighbours.’ We don’t love either of them if we tolerate injustice or
violence. We must pray against such evils and for peace with justice and
security for both people groups. In particular, Christian Zionists must realise
that they are not being positive to Israel if they don’t pray that she will act
justly and sincerely seek peace.
Israel to follow the path of justice whilst ensuring its own security.
Israel not to be increasingly isolated diplomatically in the world.
the protection of both the Palestinians and Israelis, including from violent
extremism in their populations.
and unfair treatment of Israel and racism against Arabs in Israel.