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Notes on the Negev Summit

Israeli officials have taken part in some remarkable meetings with regional Arab leaders in recent years due to the diplomatic breakthrough of the Abraham Accords. But the ‘Negev Summit’ at the start of this week was uniquely historic and significant for several reasons.

 

The Place
For starters, the location of the gathering in Sde Boker was laden with symbolism. This is the small, isolated kibbutz in the southern Negev desert where legendary Zionist figure David Ben-Gurion retired to late in life as a personal affirmation of his vision that developing the Negev was the future of Israel. Israel’s founding premier knew that Arab hostility towards the new Jewish state was too strong at the time, so he pursued a strategy of forging alliances with ‘periphery’ nations, such as Turkey and Iran. But he also hoped that Israeli innovation could reclaim the arid regions of the Negev in a way which would eventually draw the Arab nations and peoples to their side. The Negev Summit was a realization and even vindication of that vision, which was inspired by the biblical promise that the desert would one day “blossom as the rose.” (Isaiah 35:1)

The place of the summit also was significant in that the Negev today is still something of a frontier land, where local Bedouin tribes are challenging Israeli authorities for control of the region. There have been tensions and clashes with police in recent years, as many Bedouin gangs are engaged in drug trafficking, stealing Jewish livestock, and other criminal activities. So, for Arab leaders to attend a high-profile summit in the Negev was an important signal to those seeking to undermine Israel’s authority in this region.

The Participants
The Negev Summit also was significant for those who took part in it. This included the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain and the UAE are rich Arab oil states who were among the original signatories to the Abraham Accords with Israel. They are forward-looking and aspire to be a hub of the emerging global economy.

Meanwhile, Morocco is more traditionalist but sees great benefits in expanding its ties with Israel. And Morocco also holds the Guardian of Jerusalem portfolio within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, so its participation carried added weight for Israel in the long struggle over holy sites in Jerusalem.

In addition, Egypt’s attendance was another key step in its warm embrace of the Abraham Accords. Of course, Cairo has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1979, but it was always deemed a cold peace with little true acceptance and people-to-people contact. Yet that has now started to change under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who earlier channeled the spirit of the Abraham Accords when he graciously greeted Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar in her wheelchair while hosting a recent regional energy conference. The Egyptian warming to Israel also has been fueled by the IDF’s close security and intelligence cooperation in Cairo’s long-standing battle with Islamist militias operating in the Sinai.

Collectively, these Sunni Arab states also were acknowledging the reality that Israel has a special relationship with America and a unique ‘pull’ in Washington, which they seek to leverage for their own good.

Finally, the presence of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken showed that the Biden administration clearly realizes the positive regional changes wrought by the Abraham Accords. Until now, they gave begrudging credit to the predecessor Trump administration for birthing the Accords, but this signals the Biden team is finally ready to build on the momentum it created.

It also is significant to note who was not there – Jordan and the Palestinians. As Secretary Blinken constantly reminded the parties, the Abraham Accords cannot “substitute” for direct engagement between Israel and the Palestinians. But Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas remained in Ramallah, still stewing over the way these fellow Arab leaders have ‘betrayed’ his cause by pressing on with normalizing relations with Israel.

Jordan’s absence also was widely noticed, as King Abdullah continues to shy away from the Abraham Accords, largely as a means of self-preservation due to the Palestinian majority residing within his kingdom. Instead, he visited Abbas in Ramallah on Monday. Nonetheless, there has been a steady stream of senior figures in the Bennett-Lapid government who have met with Abdullah over recent months in a bid to maintain Israel’s unique relationship with Amman.

Lastly, Saudi Arabia also was not present at Sde Boker. But immediately after the Negev Summit, Secretary Blinken spoke with his Saudi counterpart to update him on developments. Riyadh is not quite ready to openly normalize relations with Israel, but signs of quiet cooperation are there. This includes Israeli commercial overflights of Saudi territory, as well as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported 2020 secret meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recently referred to Israel a “potential ally.”

The Purpose
The Negev Summit also was significant for the substance of what was discussed there. First of all, it is still a rare sight for Israeli and Arab leaders to just sit down and talk freely about the region’s future. It was not just about security and trade, as many other topics were discussed.

But most importantly, Blinken faced a united front against reviving the Iran nuclear deal. Both Israel and the Sunni Arab states have felt somewhat abandoned by the Obama and now Biden administrations when it comes to the growing Iranian threat in the region. The irony here is that whenever Washington engages in appeasement of Iran, it only drives these Arab nations more and more into Israel’s arms.

Sunni Arab rulers have seen an Israeli prime minister defy a sitting US president by addressing Congress about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. These Arab leaders also have been impressed at how Israel strikes back hard at Iran and its regional proxy militias, while the US only retaliates against Iranian strikes if they inflict casualties. They also have seen Israel’s many successes in its ‘shadow war’ against Iranian arms shipments to Hizbullah via Syria, its targeting of Iranian drones, its cyber attacks against Tehran, and its covert operations inside Iran to expose, slow and even cripple its nuclear program.

These Arab states may not necessarily want to be directly involved in Israel’s nuclear confrontation with Tehran. But some are already being hammered by drone and missile strikes launched by the Iranian-allied Houthi militia in Yemen, and Israel seems a lot more willing and able to help stem these attacks than a Washington giving greater priority to Arab states showing respect for human rights. So, one of the more concrete results of the Negev Summit, according to Israeli sources, is that the parties are now working on a regional air defense pact to better handle the missile and drone threat from Iran and its proxy militias.

The Pushback
Another indication of the significance of the Negev Summit is the current wave of lone wolf terror attacks in Israel, which appear to be mostly inspired by radical Sunni Arab militias like ISIS. A series of three major attacks in Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak have claimed 11 lives in just over a week. Many have connected these attacks to the onset of Ramadan, but it appears to be more a case of anger that Sunni Arab leaders are normalizing relations with Israel.

The Dire Prospects
The Negev Summit also took place under the shadow of the war in Ukraine, and the glaring lessons of that conflict for this region were not lost on the parties. Watching the US and NATO opt to stay out of a direct war with Russia reminded America’s longtime allies in the Middle East that they need to be prepared to defend themselves on their own as best as possible.

Until now, the Gulf Arab states have been concerned with Iran’s ballistic missile and drone threat, but – unlike Israel – they have not necessarily seen the growing Iranian nuclear threat as directly aimed at them. But we have now seen the carnage and mayhem a crazed regime can inflict while operating under the umbrella of a credible nuclear threat. Vladimir Putin’s bare mention of the nuclear option has kept American and NATO troops at bay and given Russian forces a lot more leeway to level Ukrainian cities. So, how much more damage and destruction could Iran do with its missiles and drones if it was just able to brandish a nuclear arsenal!
 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Ukraine and the ‘War of Gog and Magog’

Though many world leaders expressed surprise, it should have been easy to predict that Russia was going to invade Ukraine. After all, Western intelligence agencies had been outing the Kremlin’s war plans for weeks.

It also was quite predictable that many Christians would instantly start connecting this conflict to the “War of Gog and Magog,” the last days’ global confrontation described in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. As my colleague Malcolm Hedding once observed, the speculation about Gog and Magog seems to ramp up “every time Vladimir Putin sneezes.”

Indeed, I have witnessed endless speculation about the onset of this prophesied battle throughout my entire 50 years of walking with the Lord. And to the world as well as the Israeli media, the sudden excitement among Christians about Bible prophecy being fulfilled amid an ongoing calamity like Ukraine can come over as odd and, even worse, quite scary.

Most of the speculation about Gog and Magog has centered around Russia, or the former Soviet Union, and their allies coming against tiny Israel. Some view it as an imminent war which could be triggered any day now. Others conflate the war of Gog and Magog with the Battle of Armageddon, insisting they are the same conflict. Yet others place it at the end of the Millennium, relying on additional prophetic passages found in the New Testament.

So what exactly is the War of Gog and Magog? And does it really have anything to do with the horrific war now raging in Ukraine?

A Book of Mystery, and Clarity
To begin with, we should note that the book of Ezekiel is full of mystery and veiled imagery. Even in the first few verses, the prophet declares “I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1 – all cites to NKJV), and then he sees the “living creatures” and a “wheel in the middle of a wheel.” (Ezekiel 1:5-16) Thus, the rabbis traditionally have discouraged their fellow Jews from even reading the book of Ezekiel until they have studied well all the other Hebrew Scriptures.

But towards the end of Ezekiel, the book does seem more straightforward and follows a clear chronological order, which takes on added meaning when reading it from our perspective today. Beginning with chapter 33, the Lord stresses to Ezekiel his role and duty as a “watchman” who must warn the people of Israel and Jerusalem of impending judgment and exile. Then in chapters 36 and 37, we have incredible prophecies of the great regathering of Israel in the last days, which involves both a physical ingathering back to the Land and then a spiritual ingathering back to God by a dynamic outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In fact, his vision of the “Valley of Dry Bones” in chapter 37 depicts it as if the nation is literally resurrected from the dead – which in many ways aptly describes the miraculous rebirth of Israel as a nation just three years after the nadir of the Holocaust.

Then comes chapters 38 and 39, which basically mirror each other in foretelling of a future battle involving an array of nations who come up against a regathered Israel “dwelling in safety,” but God destroys them in a fiery judgment from heaven. This is followed by chapters 40 to 48, where he sees a magnificent future Temple in a glorious and greatly enlarged city of Jerusalem.

Focusing our attention first on Ezekiel 38, the prophet is told to deliver a warning to “Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal,” namely that God is against them and is determined to bring them up against Jerusalem, even against their will (Ezekiel 38:1-4). Other nations will join them, with the prophet specifically naming Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and the “house of Togarmah from the far north.” (Ezekiel 38:5-6) In the “latter years,” they will come like a storm cloud covering the land, and will seek to destroy the people of Israel who have been regathered from all the nations and are “dwelling in safety,” a “peaceful people” living back in their land in “unwalled villages” that have “neither bars nor gates.” (Ezekiel 38:8-11) This attack will be launched by “a great company and mighty army,” who “will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you…” (Ezekiel 38:14-15) But God will destroy them by “great hailstones, fire and brimstone,” so that He might hallow His name before the nations (Ezekiel 38:16-23).

Chapter 39 continues describing this same battle against Gog, while adding that the victory at God’s hand will be so complete, Israel will need seven months to bury the dead and seven years to burn the weapons of warfare. At the same time, Israel and the nations are brought in awe of God’s majestic power and understand better the divine purpose of Israel’s long journey of exile and return.

So, does the current Russian invasion of Ukraine portend that the war of “Gog and Magog” is brewing before our very eyes?

Reasons for Restraint
First, Bible scholars have varying views on what is meant by “Gog, of the land of Magog.” Some suggest he is a human despot, but my sense is that it refers to a demonic ruler or principality which has a stronghold over a certain nation or people – a concept which can be found throughout the Bible.

Regarding “Rosh,” some say this refers to “Rus” or the Russian people, but in Hebrew the word means “head” or “chief.” Thus, it should be read as “chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” Nonetheless, Ezekiel does say several times that main elements of this vast army will come from the “far north” – and Moscow just happens to lie a good distance directly north of Jerusalem.

Other nations join Gog of Magog, and some can be readily identified in our day. For instance, Persia is today’s Iran. Others can be traced back to the seventy “sons of Noah” listed in Genesis 10. Thus, Cush refers to roughly the area of Sudan and perhaps Ethiopia, while Put is Libya. Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Togarmah were all descendants of Japheth, who settled around Turkey, the Black Sea, Caucus mountains and into eastern Europe. Still, there remains much mystery and speculation as to exactly who they might refer to today, but the passage certainly portrays a broad array of nations.

Even so, the alignment of nations right now does not seem to fit the “Gog and Magog” scenario. Russia, in fact, is extremely isolated over its invasion of Ukraine. At a rare emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly last week, only four nations (Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria) joined Russia in voting against a resolution strongly condemning Moscow for their aggression. Even traditional Russian allies like China, Cuba and Iran abstained in the vote. Meanwhile, Turkey has an historic animosity towards Russia, and is currently blocking Russian warships from traversing the narrow straits into the Black Sea. Finally, Israel itself has recently developed a unique relationship with Russia that helps both sides avoid direct confrontation and accommodate each other’s interests.

Looking back, the stars were much better aligned with Ezekiel 38-39 in Soviet times, when Russia and the Warsaw Pact bloc, along with several African client-states, backed their regional Arab allies in fighting a series of wars against Israel in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982.

There are other clear reasons to question right now the immediacy of the “War of Gog and Magog.” Consider that while Israel has indeed been regathered from all the nations, this is not a nation “dwelling in safety… having neither bars or gates.” (Ezekiel 38:8-11) Rather, Israel maintains the most constant state of alert of any nation on earth. There are always war planes in the air guarding its narrow borders 24/7. More Israeli fighter jets are waiting on the runways, engines revving, ever ready to take flight. The nation has multiple layers of advanced anti-missile defenses (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow III) to protect against the hundreds of thousands of rockets now aimed at its cities – including some that may soon be tipped with nuclear warheads.

Remember Revelation
In addition, it is hard to avoid the clear reference to “Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20:8, which places this battle at the end of the Millennium. In examining this key prophetic passage, it is first worth noting how the Book of Revelation resembles the book of Ezekiel in some important ways.

Like Ezekiel, the book of Revelation is full of mystery and veiled imagery. But just as in Ezekiel, towards the end of Revelation the Apostle John begins to set out a clear chronological order which largely mirrors the closing chapters of Ezekiel.

In Revelation 16, John describes the Battle of Armageddon as a last days’ global conflict centered around Israel, which he places just before the Return of Christ. Then at the start of Chapter 20, he introduces the concept of the Millenium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. By this time, the veiled imagery is disappearing. Six times, John the Revelator specifically states this Messianic Age will last for one thousand years (Revelation 20:2-7). The “dragon” of earlier chapters is now fully identified and exposed as “that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan,” and he is bound in the bottomless pit for those one thousand years (Revelation 20:2-3).

Yet at the end of the Millennium, Satan is released one last time and allowed to “go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Revelation 20:8-9)

Note how this concise wording encapsulates Ezekiel 38-39, ending with the very same fiery judgment from heaven. This is an unmistakable reference to Ezekiel’s vision and it presents a major hurdle to those who maintain that the war of Gog and Magog could happen any day now. Some explain away this problem by saying there are actually two such battles, one before and one after the Millennium, based on what they refer to as “progressive prophetic fulfillment” – a principle of biblical interpretation which holds that a prophetic passage can have several partial fulfillments over time leading up to its ultimate completion. There indeed are instances of this in the Bible, such as passages related to the latter-day outpourings of the Holy Spirit. But I am not yet convinced that it applies to the Gog and Magog conflict.

This sense is reinforced by the way the chronology found at the very end of Revelation continues to parallel the last chapters of Ezekiel. Right after the Battle of Gog and Magog, we see the glorious New Jerusalem descending in Revelation 21:9-27, just as the great and magnificent Jerusalem of Ezekiel chapters 40-48 immediately follows the Gog and Magog conflict in chapters 38-39.

A Time of Ingathering
However these important prophetic passages play out, the current Russian invasion of Ukraine has propelled the world into a very dangerous moment in human history. The horrific suffering in Ukraine is difficult to watch, and the war there could ignite a much wider conflict which already borders on a nuclear stand-off. But I believe we are still in the days of Israel’s ingathering, as tens of thousands of Jews are now seeking to flee the fighting in Ukraine, as well as the economic collapse hitting Russia due to the world’s response to their aggression. According to the latest reports, Israel is expecting to take in as many as 100,000 Ukrainian and Russian Jews over coming months.

So, just what do the tragic events in Ukraine mean from a prophetic standpoint? Instead of fixating on Ezekiel 38-39, I believe the Hebrew prophets have given our generation a much clearer prophetic picture for discerning our times through their repeated allusions to the Exodus. Throughout the major and minor prophets, and even all the way into Revelation, there are many passages which refer to the Exodus from Egypt as a model or paradigm for the end of this age (see, for instance: Isaiah 11:16, Jeremiah 16:14 and 23:7, Hosea 2:15 and Micah 7:15). Jeremiah even tells us twice that the last days return of the Jews to their homeland from all the nations where they were scattered will exceed in scope Israel’s deliverance from Egypt – which for the Jewish people still stands as the greatest moment in their history.

For over 100 years now, we have been in a season of Ingathering and favor on Zion, as the Jewish people have been coming home from all the nations where they were exiled for two long millennia. In the Exodus analogy, Pharoah has “let My people go” and they are still coming home from all directions. But then Pharoah regretted freeing the Hebrew slaves and went after them, and God judged and destroyed the Egyptians at the parting of the Red Sea.

Today, Jews are still being freed to go home to Israel, but one day the nations will regret letting them come back to the Land and especially to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and they will come lay siege to this city and nation. Yet once again, God will deliver the Jewish people and defeat and humble their enemies by a mighty hand. This confrontation at the end of the age is what we usually refer to as the Battle of Armageddon, from Revelation 16, but it is also described in Joel 3, Zechariah 12 and 14, and many other passages. In due time, this Ingathering and deliverance will be greater than the Exodus itself, and it will usher in the time of Messiah’s reign for one thousand years. And I believe only then do we have to worry about the War of Gog and Magog. That conflict appears to be a final confrontation where Satan is allowed to deceive the nations one last time so those born during the Millennium have the same chance as you and me to choose between loving and serving God or rebelling against Him.

All this being said, may we never be distracted from the task now at hand – continuing to regather the Jewish people and help secure their place in the Land of Israel for what lies ahead.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Getty images

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Shooting Attack in Jerusalem Kills Two Israelis

A terrorist stopped his car and opened fire on a crowd of people waiting at a train stop in Jerusalem on Sunday, killing one and wounding four others before being shot dead by two police officers who pursued him, but not before he had killed one officer and wounded the other. The dead were named as Adv.- St.-Sgt.-Maj. Yosef Kirma, 29, and Levana Malichi, 60. The shooting attack occurred at the Ammunition Hill train stop across the street from national police headquarters. A police spokeswoman said that police presence in the capital was already being ramped up in preparation for the fall holidays and that citizens should go about their normal routine, while also remaining vigilant.

“The people of Jerusalem are strong and well-versed in dealing with attacks like this,” Police Chief Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich told reporters. “They know how to return to normal.”

Ethiopian Aliyah Flight Greeted by ICEJ
The first batch of 63 new immigrants from Ethiopia arrived in Israel Sunday evening, landing at Ben Gurion Airport to be greeted by government representatives and staff members of the ICEJ headquarters, which raised funds to pay for and otherwise helped facilitate their flights. “You are playing a very important role,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharanksky told the ICEJ Video Team. “We are very grateful to our friends from the Christian Embassy.”

Click here to help ICEJ bring more Ethiopian Jews home

Israel blesses the world
Researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev announced over the weekend that they, in cooperation with a team at the University of Southampton in the UK, have developed a new optical microchip which has many applications in improvements for existing bio-medical and optical-communication equipment.

“Our new chip could be the basis for a spectrometer at the bedside of every patient in every hospital. The materials we used – glass and light – are plentiful and cheap. Just a drop of a sample placed on one of the waveguides can be analyzed at the speed of light. In fact, a single piece of glass could analyze a number of materials simultaneously,” said BGU’s Dr. Alina Karabchevsky. “There are many new directions this work encourages us to explore – from fundamental breakthroughs in molecular harmonics excitation under evanescent radiation on a chip to actual devices such as spectrometers on a chip and doctor-in-your-pocket devices.”

Violent Weekend Kills Dozens in Turkey
Terrorist bombings and retaliatory action by Turkish security forces killed 33 people and wounded dozens of others in recent days. Oficials in Ankara blamed the Kurdish PKK faction for the attacks, which took place in several different cities all over the country.

NYT Editorial Suggests Strong UN Action Against Israel
The New York Times, one of the most influential media outlets in the world, devoted its Editorial last Thursday to urging US President Barak Obama to lead an effort at the upcoming meeting of the UN Security Council to impose harsh parameters on Israel for the establishment of a Palestinian State.  The Editorial specifically mentioned, with implied approval, that this would make things very difficult for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The best idea under discussion now would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states,” the Editorial declared. “The most plausible pressure would come from Mr. Obama’s leading the Security Council to put its authority behind a resolution to support a two-state solution and offer the outlines of what that could be.That may seem like a bureaucratic response unlikely to change anything, but it is the kind of political pressure Mr. Netanyahu abhors and has been working assiduously to prevent.”

Israeli Athletes Win Medals in Riga
Three Israeli athletes won medals over the weekend and the taekwondo Riga Open in Latvia. The three athletes, all in the juniors competition, advanced to their respective medal rounds thanks to the refusal of athletes from Arab countries to appear for their appointed matches in the semi-final rounds.

Today’s video is actually a podcast giving some expert analysis on the modern Middle East

Lessons from Ukraine for the Iran deal

“We all woke up in a different world today!”

So said Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Minister, on the morning of 24 February. And yes, everything did change that morning. Russian armored columns began pouring into Ukraine, and European leaders were surprised.

“We never thought he would really do it,” was the common refrain heard in the halls of European parliaments. “He lied to us all!” insisted a frustrated Baerbock.

This even though American and British intelligence had been warning for weeks that Russian strongman Valdimir Putin was about to invade Ukraine.

And when he did, the old order began falling apart. Western leaders who believe in the power of economic diplomacy were suddenly emperors without clothes. Thomas Friedman’s ‘Golden Arches theory’ – that no two countries which both have McDonalds have ever gone to war – collapsed overnight.

German politicians were especially convinced that economic engagement was the sure way to tame the Russian bear. They were certain Putin would never dare endanger the multibillion-dollar deal bringing the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. Until last Thursday!

When Princeton professor Francis Fukuyama first posited that we had reached the “end of history,” he meant that the collapse of Soviet Communism marked the triumph of liberal democracy and free market economies, with no other rivals in sight. He later backed away from that theory somewhat, yet it has still survived in the minds of many Western leaders who simply believe ‘Money Talks!’ But Putin has now made clear – for some nations and leaders their political, religious and/or nationalist aspirations far outweigh any economic considerations.

Consequently, we are currently witnessing the most radical shift in European and even world history since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And most surprisingly, Germany’s Green party (Die Grünen) is helping lead the charge. They rose to power with an agenda of global disarmament. Taking their slogan from the prophet Isaiah, who envisioned the nations beating their “swords into ploughshares,” the Greens hoped that by their pacifist ways they could usher in a messianic age of peace and tranquility for all. This week, together with their coalition partners, they signed off on a € 100 Billion weapons package for the German army, the largest in recent German history.

So since last Thursday, ‘history’ has returned with full force and everyone can see that a well-oiled economy is not the ultimate goal for some world despots and their supporters and enablers. This reality also can be seen in today’s Middle East, where geopolitical and religious aspirations can easily dwarf the financial benefits of peace.

Right now, we are just weeks, if not days, away from the signing of a new nuclear deal with Iran. The base assumption with Iran is the same as with Russia: If we just economically engage them with large and attractive enough deals, their economy will grow and they will just give up their plans to annihilate Israel and America – the ‘Little Satan’ and ‘Great Satan.’

As with Putin, the intentions of Iran are well stated. Ayatollah Khomeini openly declared that his revolution aimed to eliminate Israel. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood before podiums emblazoned with the vision “The World Without Zionism.” Former ‘moderate’ president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once described tiny Israel as a “one-bomb country.” This same basic call to wipe Israel from the map has been echoed by nearly every other Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And the means for carrying out this genocidal pledge was fully exposed by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he revealed the secrets of Iran’s nuclear military program found in that Tehran warehouse, leading Western intelligence agencies to already conclude Iran has been lying all along.

So, the world needs to understand that if the breaking of promises can happen in Europe, it is even more possible with Iran. After all, Iran has clearly shown its intentions by arming to the teeth its proxies Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both terror militias have impoverished their own people in order to build arsenals brimming with tens of thousands of rockets pointing at Israel.

I fear that with a renewed Iran deal, the West will fall again into the very same trap as just transpired with Putin. But Israel and indeed our entire world cannot afford another moment of watching bewildered Western leaders pleading: “He lied to us,” or “We did not see it coming.”

Today, any economic benefits dangled in front of Iran must be accompanied by a strong unified stand from the international community denying it any type of nuclear program whatsoever. The deal now in the making will bring Iran dangerously close to an atomic weapon. Israeli leaders are gravely concerned with this dangerous outcome from the renewed negotiations in Vienna.

Instead, America and its Western allies must take a bold move and radically reverse their placid approach to Iran, in the same way they have just reversed – for their own safety – their failed policies towards the Kremlin. It is the least we can do to demonstrate to Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, that they can count on us.

Dr Jürgen Bühler is President of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; int.icej.org
 

Amnesty and the Modern-Day Inquisition Against Israel

Israel’s Foreign Ministry circulated a report in early January warning that 2022 will likely be the year Israel is officially saddled with the label of “apartheid state.” Unfortunately, their forecast is looking prescient, as Amnesty International published a study this week which concludes that Israel indeed maintains an apartheid system to rule over and suppress “Palestinians” on both sides of the pre-’67 Green Line. The Amnesty report has set off a firestorm of very valid criticisms from Israel and its allies worldwide. But the self-appointed grand judges of the human rights movement, the feckless mainstream media, and the corrupt United Nations are all doing their part to unfairly single out the lone Jewish state for unprecedented scrutiny and unjust condemnation as an “apartheid regime” in what collectively amounts to a modern-day Inquisition against Israel.

What has made the charge of “apartheid” much more serious is that the international community redefined it four years ago as a crime, meaning it should be treated the same as a war crime or crime against humanity.

When that legal change came, Amnesty immediately assigned a research team to start investigating Israel for the crime of apartheid. The result is the newly-released 278-page report entitled “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,” which claims to “show that Israeli authorities impose a system of domination and oppression against the Palestinian people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and against Palestinian refugees. Laws, policies, and institutional practices all work to expel, fragment, and dispossess Palestinians of their land and property, and deprive Palestinians of their human rights. We conclude this treatment amounts to an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination defined as apartheid under international law.”

WHERE TO START with responding to this sanctimonious drivel?

Among the most egregious flaws are that Amnesty identifies all Arabs in Israel and Palestinian-ruled areas as “Palestinians” and then claims Israel practices apartheid against them all. That alone exposes the political biases of those behind this report.

Amnesty also alleges that Israel was born in sin because it was created in 1948 to be a “Jewish state”, and it has imposed measures ever since to maintain that Jewish majority. This totally ignores the fact that the United Nations itself approved a partition plan for creating a Jewish-majority and an Arab-majority state side-by-side in the area of Mandate Palestine being vacated by the British at the time.

Many critics of the report have charged Amnesty with “antisemitism” by effectively denying the right of the Jews to a state of their own. Amnesty has responded that it supports that right in theory, but it then seeks to criminalize any attempt by Israel to maintain its Jewish majority – something many other states do in order to maintain their own native-ethnic national identity.

One vigorous response to the Amnesty report came from Yoseph Haddad, an Israeli Arab Christian from Nazareth who volunteered to serve in the Israeli army, was wounded during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and today is an i24 News reporter and an advocate for Jewish/Arab coexistence. Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Haddad questioned why Amnesty would rob him and other Israeli Arabs of their Israeli identity by defining them all as “Palestinians.” He cited several recent public opinion surveys which show that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs are content and even well satisfied with their status as equal citizens in Israel’s democracy and would rather live here than any other country.

“I was born an Israeli, and I will remain an Israeli,” insisted Haddad. “I am entitled to all the same rights as any citizen of Israel. I was a soldier in Israel’s Defense Forces protecting the north of Israel, where most of the Israeli-Arab community lives, from terrorist rockets attacks by Hezbollah… Not only that, but I was also a commander of dozens of Jewish soldiers. What kind of an ‘apartheid’ would let Arabs give orders to Jews? The non-existent kind.”

“As for the Palestinians, the status-quo of occupation is problematic, but still, it’s not based on racial discrimination, but rather on national conflict,” Haddad added. “A conflict that Israel has proven it would like to end on several occasions when it offered generous solutions for peace, before the Palestinians rejected them. If Israel has a racial issue with Arabs, why did we then make peace with Morocco, UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain? Why then are there so many Arabs who are part of Israel’s government, making decisions that impact every Israeli? Why are there Arab judges deciding on the fate of Israeli citizens in court?”

Other assessments of the Amnesty study have determined that it:
1) Distorts or ignores the historic context surrounding Israel’s founding, including not just UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan), but also the ensuing Arab invasion of the fledgling state of Israel, the Arab world’s expulsion of over 800,000 Jews from their midst, and the dire plight of 250,000 Holocaust refugees stuck in displacement camps around Europe at the time.
2) Distorts or ignores the equal rights enjoyed by Arab citizens of Israel.
3) Cites Israel’s demographic concerns over losing its Jewish majority, but ignores Israel’s legitimate security concerns, especially in relation to its measures to defend against the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism.
4) Involved biased researchers employed by Amnesty to conduct the study, many of whom had exhibited prior prejudices against Jews and Israel, such as serving as “human shields” against the IDF, supporting BDS, or voicing their hopes for Israel to disappear.

It is also hard to dismiss the thought there might be a pecuniary angle to this report. The focus of most human rights groups has increasingly turned to criticizing Western democracies because they are “soft targets” and it resonates with their donor bases. And Amnesty is clearly guilty of this – just click on the link to their online Israel=Apartheid report and up pops a donation box. I find that shocking when you are laying the serious charge that an entire nation is a criminal enterprise which needs to be dismantled!

The mainstream media has done little so far to scrutinize Amnesty, its motives, methods and researchers. But kudos to the Times of Israel for confronting the Amnesty leaders who showed up in Jerusalem for a press conference this week to unveil their report on Israel. In a separate interview afterwards, the Amnesty team floundered in trying to explain why they chose to investigate Israel first once apartheid was declared an international war crime back in 2017. Sure, they are also investigating Myanmar for its blatant discrimination and suppression of the Rohingya peoples, but what about China and its harsh treatment of the Uighurs or Tibetans, or Turkey and the Kurds? These are open-and-shut cases…

Their answer was that they gave priority to countries where they had easier access to information and the greater possibility of effecting change. In other words, China and Turkey are closed-off authoritarian regimes that get a pass, while Israel is an open society and Amnesty already had contacts with hundreds of local anti-Israel human rights activists and groups who are well funded by European governments and other outside sources. Once the report was done, it would be another log to fuel the already raging fire encircling Israel, trying to raze its very reasons for existence.

Keep in mind that this report also comes as no less than three United Nations forums are currently pursuing their own investigations to charge Israel with “apartheid” and other possible war crimes. This includes:
1) The International Criminal Court in Den Haag, which under former chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a formal criminal probe into Israel’s actions during and after the 2014 Gaza conflict.
2) The UN Human Rights Council, which has launched a permanent Commission of Inquiry against Israel after the Gaza rocket war last May that has an open-ended mandate to probe any Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinians.
3) The Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is reviewing a complaint against Israel filed by the Palestinian Authority in 2018 which includes charges of “apartheid.”

Taken altogether, the leftist machinery of the human rights movement, the hopelessly ineffective and biased media, the mindless “Flat Earth Society” at the United Nations and so many others have joined together to launch a modern-day Inquisition against the world’s lone Jewish state, and the crime of “apartheid” is the trendy new way to accomplish their goal of eliminating Israel. No doubt, Israel’s diplomatic breakthrough with the Arab world through the Abraham Accords unnerved the Palestinian Authority and their global network of supporters, and they are now working double-time to ratchet up the apartheid campaign against Israel. The self-righteous Amnesty officials who showed up in Jerusalem this week to lay out their bill of charges against the Jewish state and people may not have been wearing scarlet robes and tall miters, but they should have!

Photo credit: Flash90
 

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Yad Vashem Chairman Urges Christian World to Keep Holocaust Remembrance Day

In his first appearance before an exclusively Christian audience as the new Chairman of Yad Vashem, Mr. Dani Dayan this week urged the Christian world to turn International Holocaust Remembrance Day every January 27th into a special day to reflect on the Holocaust, honor its victims, pray, and fight antisemitism today.

“For each decent person in the world, January 27th should not be a regular day. January 27th should be a day of reflection,… a day of prayer,… a day of meditation on how to honor the victims, how to improve combatting antisemitism, and how to strengthen the relationship with the Jewish people and the state of Israel,” said Mr. Dayan. “All the things I said are good 365 days per year, but January 27th now has a special significance. So, I call upon all our viewers, when they wake up on January 27, don’t make it a regular day. Make it a day of reflection, a day of prayer, a day of faith, a day of solidarity with the victims, with the Jewish people and with the state of Israel, and a day to combat antisemitism.”

Dayan was appearing on Tuesday (25/01) in the annual Envision leadership conference organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which this year has brought together nearly 1,000 Christian pastors and ministry leaders from more than 50 nations for a month-long online event.

In 2006, Yad Vashem entered a special partnership with the ICEJ to open a unique outreach to the Christian world by launching the “Christian Friends of Yad Vashem” initiative. As part of that cooperative effort, the ICEJ organizes an annual pastors conference during the week of January 27th which aims to better educate Christian pastors and ministry leaders on the Holocaust and the need to stand with Israel today. Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, this year’s conference is a fully online streaming event, with nearly 1,000 pastors and ministry leaders from around the world taking part.

In his live-streamed interview with ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler, Chairman Dayan added: “We extremely cherish our friendship with the Christian world, with you personally and with your Embassy. For us it is a source really of inspiration and encourages us very much knowing that we have partners in our mission.”

“I think that Yad Vashem should be open and receive with open arms every person of goodwill that wants really to come here to learn and to understand and to mourn also, and to identify with the plight of the Jewish people,” Dayan continued. “We feel without any reservation the sincerity of the feelings with which our Christian friends come here to Yad Vashem. And it's clear that in today's world, we see the Christian world as an ally and a friend. And we call upon all your audience, first and foremost, to visit Israel, when I hope that COVID will disappear soon, and to visit Jerusalem and to visit Yad Vashem. I think that for many persons, I hear it constantly, the visit to Yad Vashem has been a life-changing experience. I think it is an educational one, but no less than that it also is a spiritual one. I believe that the Hall of Names or the Righteous of the Nations path are some of the most sacred places in Jerusalem. You know that sacred places are abundant [here]. But I think those are more than sacred places of Jerusalem that every person of faith should visit.”

“I can absolutely agree to that,” responded Dr. Bühler. “The fact that I'm here now for 27 years in Israel, to a very large degree I owe to my first visit at Yad Vashem. Visiting the exhibition to see what Christians, what Germans did to the Jewish people, that really touched my heart in an incredible way.”

Dani Dayan was appointed in August 2021 as the new Chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He previously served as Israel's Consul General in New York, as Chairman of the YESHA Council, and as Chairman and CEO of Elad Software Systems Ltd., a company he founded.

To commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Christian Embassy also held a special wreath-laying ceremony this week in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and hosted an informative Webinar discussion with experts on fighting antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel on 27 January. View Webinar here .

Plus, we joined together with pastors and ministry leaders from around the world for dedicated prayer sessions by regions, as well as a powerful version of our weekly Global Prayer Gathering.

NB: Yad Vashem is offering the public an opportunity to partake in the IRemember Wall Campaign. This is an opportunity for the public to take an active role in Holocaust remembrance. In addition to learning about the history of the Holocaust it is crucial for people to connect with its individual victims. The IRemember Wall is a participatory program that combines both learning history and actively remembering it! Join Yad Vashem's IRemember Wall, which randomly matches people with one of the 4,800,000 names of Holocaust victims commemorated in the Central Database of Names of Holocaust Victims. Each person who joins the Wall becomes an ambassador of memory, both by joining, commemorating the victim, and sharing their story. Let's remember the Holocaust one name at a time! Go to www.yadvashem.org to join.
 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Bennett-Lapid coalition ‘unsettled’ on Land of Israel issues

The broad range of political parties which make up the new Israeli government also represent a wide variety of views on the Land of Israel and what areas must be either retained or ceded to ensure peace with the Palestinian Arabs. Many coalition members on the Right see continued settlement building as not only a security imperative but also a religious duty, while those on the Left insist it seriously undermines chances of reaching a two-state solution. So far, the ruling coalition has concentrated on the need to pass state budgets, but their differences over the land-for-peace question are beginning to fray at the government’s cohesion.

The new Knesset is decidedly tilted to the Right, with a strong majority of 70-plus MKs belonging to parties which place great value on holding onto as much of Eretz Israel as possible for security and religious reasons. But the current coalition is fairly balanced from Right-to-Left due to its more immediate goal of keeping former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of power. Thus, those in the Bennett-Lapid government are having to live with their differences for now on land/peace issues. But it makes for an almost daily drama of internal and public quarrelling over settlement expansion.

At present, there are multiple flash points over Israeli settlement activity which are drawing the attention and ire of the international community. These include such hot spots within Jerusalem as Sheikh Jarrah, Givat Hamatos, Atarot airport, and the E-1 Corridor just east of the Mount of Olives. Meantime out in the territories, a key source of coalition tension has been the Evyatar settlement outpost, set up in response to a terror attack which killed an Israeli teen near the Tapuach junction in Samaria just weeks before the government was formed.

In June, when the coalition was still young and more harmonious, a compromise solution was brokered whereby the 50 Jewish families who had moved to the site would vacate until the legality of the new community could be decided. But as the months have passed, some Jewish settlers have returned to Evyatar and coalition members on the Left have begun showing up to protest. They even have lobbied European leaders to condemn and sanction their own government, a move which understandably has outraged coalition partners on the Right.

The internal tensions over settlement policy mounted again this week, this time involving coalition contacts with American officials. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Right were none too pleased when Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev (Labour) met with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and afterwards tweeted out a photo and message that he had discussed “settler violence” with the US diplomat. Ever since, Israeli media outlets have fixated on the Left/Right coalition spat over whether the Biden Administration truly is “obsessing” over the settlements issue.

Once the 2021 state budget was passed in early November, these sharp divisions within the government over the fate of the Land of Israel have come increasingly to the surface. This has forced key figures in the Center to steer a middle course intended to placate world powers while keeping the government intact.

In his role overseeing the IDF’s civilian administration in the West Bank, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has allowed new settlement housing starts to continue at almost the same pace as recent years. In addition, PM Bennett has set a goal of at least doubling the number of Israelis on the Golan and in the Jordan Valley, both of which hold unique strategic importance for Israel. But in a corresponding gesture to their left-wing colleagues, Bennett and Gantz also are permitting more homes to be built for Palestinians in Area C, as well as increasing the number of permits allowing them to work in Israel.

Nonetheless, the Left is not hiding its displeasure with its own government’s current policies. The Meretz and Ra’am parties reject all Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria, even calling it “criminal”, while the Labour party opposes any building outside the main settlement blocs.

There is a new deadline coming up in February for the 2022 state budget, and the possibility of a Netanyahu comeback is ever lurking in the background, meaning the coalition still has incentives to stay together for now. But given the Israeli government’s vastly divergent views on the land-for-peace formula, we should not expect any significant movement either for or against land concessions to the Palestinians anytime soon. What we can expect, however, is more coalition fireworks over whether the Jewish people should forge ahead with the settlement enterprise or freeze it and carve up their ancient homeland.

PHOTO: Jewish settlers pose for a group photo before voluntarily evacuating the Evyatar outpost in June (AFP).

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

The Season of Hate at the UN

This should be a joyous time of year, with Hanukkah and Christmas to celebrate and a New Year to ring in. But for Israelis, the holiday season is also a time of facing hatred and defamation at the United Nations. Before they can enjoy any festivities, the Palestinians are first empowered by the community of nations to level venomous accusations and pass odious resolutions unfairly condemning the Jewish state and people. And this ugly tradition must stop!

For decades now, the Palestinians have used the anniversary date of the UN Partition Plan, adopted on 29 November 1947, to launch several weeks of pre-programmed anti-Israel invective at the UN General Assembly. This annual hate-fest officially opens with an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian cause in the UN. That occasion is followed by the passage of a series of 15-to-20 well-worn annual resolutions vilifying Israel as well as reauthorizing the mandates and budgets of certain standing agencies within the UN Secretariat to continue spreading their anti-Israel propaganda year-round.

So just as Christmas and Hanukkah always come around this time of year, this fortnight of anti-Israel hatred has become a regular part of the UN calendar, as if it were normal and to be expected. Well, it is not! And it is time to tell our nation’s leaders and the diplomatic corps in particular that it is a mark of shame to permit this to go on any longer.

For the past 45 years, the UN has abundantly demonstrated its contempt for the Jewish state in a myriad of ways, including through these annual resolutions, which have created an internal infrastructure to perpetuate the anti-Israel atmosphere within its various organs. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed its infamous resolution denouncing Zionism as a form of racism. But very few know that this resolution also was accompanied by the creation of two uniquely discriminatory institutions within the UN system: the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and its staff body, the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR).

Thankfully, the “Zionism is Racism” resolution was eventually repealed at the urging of US President George Bush just ahead of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. But its operational arms, the Committee and the Division defending the “inalienable” rights of the Palestinians, were never decommissioned and they have carried on with their devious work to this day. A third in-house agency, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices, had already been operating since 1968 and continues to monitor Israeli actions only and castigate it alone for human rights abuses.

This trio of agencies operate under the auspices of the UN Secretary General and are solely dedicated to propagating the worst lies against Israel. They arrange global conferences which pillory Israel and little else. They hector world leaders on behalf of the Palestinian “right of return” and other maximalist positions whose end-goal is eradicating Israel as a Jewish state. They push the skewed Palestinian narrative. And they have been a major contributor to the Israel=Apartheid and BDS campaigns of recent decades.

This means that the annual outlays of our respective nations to the UN are going to pay for Palestinian poison against the Jewish state and people, produced within the offices of the Secretariat itself. And this is all approved by esteemed diplomats on a yearly basis right before they all go off to celebrate the wonderful holiday season.

Why this disgraceful situation is so under-reported by the media is a mystery. We all saw stories this week on how a few nations did change their votes on one of these imbalanced anti-Israel resolutions – the one unjustly criticizing Israel’s record on Jerusalem which mentioned the “Haram al-Sharif” while dropping any reference to the “Temple Mount.” But it would really help to give the wider context here!

Inside the UN bureaucracy in New York are three special departments expressly created to peddle Palestinian propaganda and they are constantly working behind the scenes for passage of these “November 29 resolutions” each year. At this very same time, they also are lobbying the nations to authorize and fund their continuing operations. In the history of this world body, such an arrangement is unprecedented for inequity and malice towards a member state.

Alas, there is some good news to report. According to Gil Kapen, executive director of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), a think tank affiliated with B’nai B’rith International, some nations are starting to wake up to this intolerable haranguing of Israel. For several years now, the number of nations voting for the one-sided anti-Israel resolutions this time of year has been steadily declining. Several notable European nations in particular are now voting against the resolutions or at least abstaining or absenting themselves. Palestinian leaders have taken note of this and to avoid embarrassment they actually have started offering fewer or less strident resolutions. And the number of nations supporting the re-authorization and funding of the Palestinian propaganda departments within the UN system also is dropping.

Some of this shift in voting patterns has to do with the diplomatic breakthrough of the Abrahamic Accords, which have seen more and more Arab nations opting to normalize relations with Israel. Some of it is due to courageous diplomats like US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who boldly challenged the bullying of Israel by her colleagues at the UN. And some of the shift arises from the simple realization by more and more nations that these official UN departments promoting an unqualified Palestinian “right of return” are essentially working for Israel’s destruction, and thus undermining any prospects for peace.

With a little push from Israel’s many Christian friends and admirers worldwide, we could finally see an end to this sordid state of affairs by shutting down for good the Palestinian propaganda machine working inside the UN apparatus itself. It is time to tell our respective national leaders and diplomats to scrap forever the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights, and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices.

If Christians come together with their local Jewish communities around the globe, I believe we can send a powerful, unified message to end this charade, so that come next Christmas and Hanukkah season, our Israeli friends will not have to face this toxic annual hate-fest at the UN.

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ weekly Webinar on “Ending the Israel Hate-Fest at the UN,” from Thursday, 9 December 2021, hosted by David Parsons and featuring Gil Kapen, Executive Director of the American Jewish International Relations Institute-B’nai B’rith International.  

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Israel’s new Bennett-Lapid government standing test of time

Broad yet fragile, Israel’s new government has held together since taking office in June and is faring better than many expected. Forged around a rotation agreement between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the ruling coalition consists of eight diverse Israeli parties united by their common quest to keep former premier Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power. With so many competing agendas among its razor-thin 61 Knesset members, many wondered whether the new government could survive, much less accomplish anything. But so far, the Bennett-Lapid alignment looks to be on a stable course for the foreseeable future.

Bennett and Lapid represent a younger generation of Israeli leaders who are generally forward-looking and willing to make compromises to promote the welfare of the entire nation. They came in facing numerous challenges at home and abroad – the most immediate being the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.

As the coalition assumed office, many Israelis felt they were about to beat COVID-19 through an aggressive mass vaccination program. But then the more contagious Delta variant slipped into the country and produced a fourth wave of infections over the summer which stressed the national health system once more.

With his hi-tech background, PM Bennett listened to the medical experts, but opted to do everything possible to keep the country and economy open. Rather than strict lockdowns like under Netanyahu, he has largely relied on Israeli citizens to voluntarily follow the health rules and isolate when exposed. At the same time, the new government has continued its strict approach to foreigners entering the country, which means the tourism industry will need more time to recover.

Meanwhile, the Knesset will soon vote on passage of an annual state budget, which previous governments failed to secure over the past three years. And although it appears the budget will pass, there are numerous and often petty disputes among the coalition partners that could easily derail the process, which might trigger the dreaded prospects of yet another election. One serious dispute is over whether Palestinians can marry Israeli Arabs and gain Israeli citizenship. The Arab parties favour such a measure, but many on the right oppose it as a back-door ‘right of return.’

The proposed budget includes investments in the Arab sector to reduce the spiralling rates of inter-Arab crime and violence, and to deal with the root causes of the shocking Arab-Jewish street brawls which broke out during the Hamas rocket war last May.

On the international front, maintaining warm relations with the United States is always a top priority for any Israeli government, and PM Bennett sought to reaffirm the alliance when he flew to Washington in August for his first meeting with US President Joe Biden. The outcome was thrown in doubt, however, when Biden postponed their meeting to deal with his government’s tumultuous exit from Afghanistan. Still, Bennett received passing marks back home for his handling of the crisis moment – largely by remaining silent on the chaotic American withdrawal.

Bennett sought to focus Washington’s attention on the growing Iranian nuclear threat, while also rebuffing any push by the Biden administration for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians on a two-state solution, arguing such a move could easily fracture his coalition.

The Israeli government also is facing US pressure to curb Chinese investment in its infrastructure projects and hi-tech sector, which could give Beijing too much leverage over Israeli policies and access to sensitive Western technologies.

To deal with such issues, the Bennett-Lapid coalition is intent on rebuilding the traditional bipartisan base of support for Israel among Democrats and Republicans in Washington, which may prove tough as next year’s US midterm elections approach. The new government also wants to be proactive in repairing Israel-Diaspora relations, especially among American Jewish leaders who have felt slighted by Israel’s favouring the ultra-Orthodox over the Conservative and Reform movements. With the haredi parties out of government, Bennett and the national religious camp have a chance to bring some needed balance to certain state-synagogue issues, such as allowing civil marriages and non-Orthodox conversions, which would appease many Israelis as well as American Jews.

In addition, the battle against the BDS campaign is a key focus of the new government’s diplomatic and hasbara efforts, as seen in the on-going tussle with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream execs over their garbled and discriminatory boycott of Israeli settlements.

Above all, the Bennett-Lapid government is faced with a momentous decision on how to confront Iran as it closes in on the nuclear threshold (see Israel at a Crossroads on Iran).

Finally, keep in mind that if the opposition Likud party were to replace Netanyahu as chairman, Bennett would come under immediate pressure to renege on his rotation deal with Lapid and move to form a majority right-wing government with Likud.


PHOTO Caption and Credit:
Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid preside over a recent meeting of the new Israeli cabinet (AP).

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

The Biden ‘two-step’ on Jerusalem

The new Israeli government’s efforts to build relations and reach a common agenda with the Biden administration got off to a rocky start when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Washington in August but found US President Joe Biden too distracted by his botched Afghanistan exit to listen to Bennett’s list of concerns. Since then, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have been meeting with senior US officials and some positives have started to emerge, such as reports that the Biden team is encouraging Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with Israel. But a lingering disagreement has arisen on the thorniest issue of all – what else but ‘Jerusalem.’

Biden wants to reopen a consulate building on Agron Street in western Jerusalem which served in the past as the chief US representative mission to the Palestinians. This unique role as an independent consulate to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah answering directly to the State Department was ended by former US President Donald Trump in 2019 as part of his efforts to correct several anomalies in the American approach to the question of Jerusalem. The consulate’s staff was folded into the new US embassy a few blocks south in the Arnona neighborhood – a move the Palestinians viewed as part of a general downgrade of their ties with the US by Trump.

But in their recent talks in Washington, Lapid warned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that US plans to reopen the consulate could risk toppling the fragile Bennett-Lapid government, which includes right-wing parties that may not be willing to accept such a move. Lapid reportedly contended that reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians will encourage other nations to do the same, thus undermining Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

Blinken has responded by offering to set up (what else?) a committee to resolve the dispute. He is hopeful such a panel will allow both sides to discuss the matter discreetly and come to a mutual resolution. The move also is meant to buy time for the Bennett-Lapid government to finally pass a state budget – which Israel has been lacking over recent years due to so many repeat elections.

US officials say that reopening the consulate is part of Biden’s pledge to restore relations with the Palestinians after Trump’s cold shoulder towards them. Interestingly, they also are pointing to around ten other countries already operating consulates in Jerusalem which serve the Palestinians. Such an argument reminds us once again of the international community’s blatant hypocrisy on the issue of Jerusalem.

In December 2017, Trump made a principled and historic decision to finally give Jerusalem its due recognition as the capital of Israel, and to move the American Embassy there. This decision was backed by four decades of overwhelming bi-partisan support for such a move in the US Congress, including its landslide passage of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. It also was in keeping with the campaign promises of the three preceding US presidents, who all reneged on those promises.

Yet just days later, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution which demanded that the US withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and explicitly called upon all nations “to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Among the nations voting for this resolution were Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom – all of which were instantly in violation of its very terms, as they each have embassies or consulates in Jerusalem which openly serve as their chief diplomatic missions to the Palestinian Authority.

It is sheer chutzpa for the Biden administration to now point to these diplomatic missions as grounds for opening up their own. If they want to send a diplomatic envoy to represent the Biden presidency to the Palestinian Authority, then they should set up shop in Ramallah – where dozens of foreign embassies and consulates are now located.

What this has exposed once more is the international community’s jaded ‘game’ on Jerusalem. For decades, they have used every excuse and pretext to deny the Jewish State and people their rightful place and claim to Jerusalem. They know Israel is legally and historically the rightful sovereign in Jerusalem, but they seek to withhold recognition of this reality in hopes of forcing Israeli concessions to the Palestinians in other areas.

The most often cited pretext in this game is that all sides should remain “even-handed” concerning the long-standing dispute over Jerusalem until its final status is determined in direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. To that end, they insist that no country should be placing their embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.

In recent years, some of the larger European Union nations have even leaned heavily on their new member states from Eastern Europe to keep them from following Trump’s lead to open embassies in Jerusalem – lest they “prejudge” the outcome of negotiations over the city. Yet the whole time, they have had embassies and consulates to the Palestinian Authority located in Jerusalem – some even in western Jerusalem. And they routinely vote for UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions which declare eastern Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian territory” – see, for example, UNSC resolution 2334. How is that even-handed?

Should the Biden administration continue this charade by reopening the Agron consulate, they will be taking us one step backwards on Jerusalem and two steps backward on peace.
 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

 

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