Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Hope in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Stephen V. Monsma


September 21, 2012

By Stephen V. Monsma  

An earlier version of this article was published as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice. 

Earlier this week, video footage was released in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismissed possibilities for peace in the Middle East, stating that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."

Few would argue against the proposition that the Israeli-Palestinians conflict is one of the most difficult-to-resolve conflicts on the international scene. And the United States is deeply involved in this conflict due to our support for the Jewish state from its inception, our many interests in that volatile region of the world and biblical prophecies that for many American Christians have a  continuing  relevance. 

Nevertheless, most observers are convinced that the path to a peaceful resolution of this conflict is not shrouded in mystery. Although the specifics need to be worked out through a long and difficult process of negotiation, the general outlines of the only peace agreement that seems workable are clear. (1) A Palestinian state would be created in the West Bank and Gaza to exist alongside the Israeli state. (2) There would be some adjustment of Israel’s pre-1967 borders so that some Israeli West Bank settlements would become part of Israel and the Palestinian state would receive some Israeli land in exchange. (3) A limited number of Palestinians (or their descendants) who were displaced either when the state of Israel was created or due to the 1967 Six Day War would be allowed to return to their original land and others would receive financial compensation from either Israel or an international fund created for this purpose. (4) Jerusalem would be divided between the Palestinians and Israelis, and the Temple Mount area, with sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, would be under international control under the supervision of an international body, with guaranteed access for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The problem is not that no one knows the way forward. These are the outlines of the peace agreement nearly reached at the 2000 Camp David Peace Summit convened by President Bill Clinton and attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. 

The problem, rather, is finding among the leaders and the populace of both sides the will, the courage and the commitment to a balanced justice essential to peace.  Now and in the past many leaders on both sides appear more interested in advancing their own careers by appealing to popular prejudices and fears than in summoning the courage to take steps—at the risk of their careers and even of their lives—to bring about peace. 

In light of this situation, what can American Christians do to encourage a peace process?  First, we must not give in to the temptation of concluding that the challenges of bringing both sides together are too great and that we should simply wash our hands of the whole mess and walk away. We should work for peace persistently and without becoming “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). And there is reason for hope. Ultimately, our God—not Hamas, not the Likkud Party, not Benjamin Netanyahu, not Mahmoud Abbas—is in charge.  Sometimes it is darkest just before the dawn.

Second, the bright light that should guide our efforts is justice for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is no easy task. In light of past and current wrongs, even to see clearly what is due whom is enormously difficult. Currently, American efforts often seem to be guided more by calculations of American self-interest, pressures from the American Jewish lobby and other domestic political calculations. American efforts are also understandably influenced by the fact that Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East and that our historic, religious, and cultural ties are much closer to the Israelis than they are to the Palestinians.  Nevertheless, this does not mean we should not seek justice for the Palestinians as well as for the Israelis. 

Third, American evangelicals err when they read biblical prophecies in a way that leads them to put unwavering support for Israel ahead of justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We must be careful not to read certain biblical prophecies towards the Jewish people with a certainty that our limited knowledge and insights do not warrant. And we must not presume that God has called us in our time to work to bring about those events we may conclude that biblical prophecy has predicted—particularly when doing so seems to violate the standard of treating all persons of all backgrounds with justice. 

In spite of our best efforts as Americans and as Christians, conflict and bloodshed may continue in the Middle East for generations to come as it has for generations past. But Christians ought never surrender to hopelessness for our God is a sovereign God. There is always hope.   

—Stephen V. Monsma is a Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Institute at Calvin College and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Pepperdine University. He is the author of Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society (2012).  


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”