Could Palestinian and Israeli states peacefully co-exist? What does the Bible have to say about their presence in the end times? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is centuries old, it is serious and, despite any future success of the so-called Road Map, it is permanentat least until what we call the Millenium, or the one thousand-year reign of Christ, when Arabs and Jews will worship Messiah together.
The Beginning of the Conflict
Since many Palestinians are Arab Muslims, we have to take a look back at the beginnings of the ethnic split between the sons of Abraham. The first of Abraham's sons was Ishmael, who was conceived by Abraham and an Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, in a human effort to bring about God's promise of a son to Abraham and his barren wife Sarah. The traditional view is that Ishmael became the main progenitor of Arab peoples. Before Ishmael's birth and after Sarah threw Hagar out, God spoke of his temperament. "He will be a wild man and his hand will be against every man and every man's hand against his and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." (Genesis 16:12) "Wild" here doesn't mean "crazy" but rather running like a wild donkey (some modern translations actually say "wild donkey"). I take this to mean self-willed and not given to cooperation with others.
This verse describes a man with a volatile temperament and a tendency to fight who would be living in the areas inhabited by Abraham's other children. That seems to be a formula for continual strife and conflict. Today's inter-ethnic tension was prophesied about 2,600 years before anything of Islam even appeared.
Tragically, Muslims have taken the verses applying to Isaac and applied them to Ishmael. Muslims believe that Ishmael, not Isaac, was the son whom Abraham nearly sacrificed and the son of promise. This is a glaring contradiction that must be mentioned in the interests of truth. The Bible clearly says that Isaac, Abraham's second son, was the one he brought up the mountain for a sacrifice and was the son of promise. The phrase "in Isaac shall thy seed be called" from Genesis 21:12 is repeated by two New Testament writers, so it can't be simply a minor oversight. Paul quotes it in Romans 9:7, as does the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:18). Mohammed had visions that totally contradicted both the Jewish and Christian faiths; the Muslims have rewritten the Bible to suit their religious preconceptions. So a family conflict is linked with a religious conflict.
Actually, several groups of Arabs figure in here. Most Arabs would say they are descended from Abraham through Ishmael, but Abraham had six more children by Keturah, his second wife, after Sarah died. He gave all that he had to Isaac, the son of promise, and gave these other sons gifts and sent them away to the east, probably the area of Saudi Arabia (Genesis 25:5 & 6). Add the descendants of Esau and of Lot by his daughters, who all settled in what is modern Jordan, and there is a real ethnic mix within the people we call Arabs.
Arabs are defined as those who speak Arabic and have an Arabian culture. They are not all necessarily Muslims, however. There are many fine Christian Arabs who live in Bethlehem, for example. Now, however, the PLO apparently wants them reduced from 60% of the population in that area to 20% so the Muslim Palestinian Arabs can dominate. It is a most unhappy scene and one that is getting little press attention. We should keep in mind that sometimes the conflict is between Arabs themselves and not merely between Jews and Arabs.
God chose Isaac as the progenitor of Christ's line. Some may think that this somehow automatically condemns all the descendants of Ishmael or Abraham's other six sons to some kind of judgement. But Genesis 17:20 says, "And as for Ishmael Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." God then declared, however, that He would make his salvation covenant with Isaac.
From about 620 AD onward, Islam unified many of the Arabs. Then, by military might when people wouldn't convert willingly, it overtook much of the Middle East and finally pressed deep into Europe.
The last Islamic rulers of a non-divided Middle East were the Ottoman-Turks. The vast Ottoman-Turk Empire included Jerusalem and what we know as Palestine, which they conquered about 1517. This domination lasted until World War I, when the Ottoman-Turks were on the losing side as confederates of Germany.
At the end of World War I, a new victor's occupation plan, called the mandate system, created most of the national boundary lines of modern Middle East nations. It gave Great Britain what was called Palestine (modern Jordan and Israel) while Syria and Lebanon went to France. A New York Times article entitled, "A World Still Haunted By Ottoman Ghosts" (3/9/03) says that the leftover hostilities from the breakup of the Ottoman Empire account for almost all the hot issues of the Middle East including the militant Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The Arab Muslims blame the West for carving up the land, imposing foreign rule and taking away what they feel was rightfully theirs.
The Jews Dispersed and Preserved
Since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans, Jewish refugees had been dispersed throughout the world. One of the ethnic miracles of all time is that these ethnic Jews retained their identity. Under great stress, other cultureseven whole civilizationshave simply disappeared, but the Jews retained their identity.
It is reported that years ago, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia in the 18th century, asked his chaplain for proof of the Bible being the Word of God. The chaplain replied, "The Jews, Sir!" The idea was that their survival after attempts to dilute or destroy them was a miracle, and that was before Hitler tried to eliminate them in the 20th century!
We must put an amazing verse to this thought. Jeremiah 31:35-37 is a simply stunning passage. "Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD."
God said that as long as the sun shines, the moon beams and the waves crash, the national ethnic group we call Israel will remain. It also is a proof text for the fact that national Israel is in God's plans until the very end of time. (There was no New Testament church at the time Jeremiah wrote this, so the Church is not identical with national Israel as some believe.) Neither Haman in Babylon nor Hitler in Germany nor the rabid and violent extremists of Islam today can destroy the Jews. You would have to douse the sun, put out the moon and destroy the oceans before one could do that.
That we are even talking about modern Israel in any sense of the word is stunning. That this ethnic group, or a religion called Judaism or a country called Israel even exists at all anywhere in the world today is a miracle. And it is a miracle that many Jews are back in their ancestral land at all.
The Disputed Land
Before the 1880s, few dispersed Jews had any thoughts of returning to Israel. Their philosophy of life was one of survival and integration right where they were. Then a prominent Jewish journalist began floating the idea that Jews were unfairly persecuted. This arose out of the famed Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish French officer was falsely charged and convicted of treason. Jews, who were without a homeland, were thought to have no country loyalty. Dreyfus was later cleared, but the situation energized journalist Theodore Hertzl to convene a Zionist Congress to promote a Jewish homeland.
At the time, 75-85% of all exiled Jews would have voted against returning to Israel. Some even suggested Uganda as a homeland. Hertzl hoped that within fifty years there would be some thought toward a Jewish homeland in Palestine. On May 14, 1948, fifty years from Hertzl's worry about Jewish interest in such a plan, Israel declared its statehooda miracle and a harbinger of end times, for ultimate prophecies could not be fulfilled without Israel back home.
With all this talk about the Jews being the miraculously preserved descendants of the son of promise, some might think that we somehow love Jews and dislike Arabs. Because a person is pro-Israel, doesn't mean he's anti-Arab. Christ came and died for all men of whatever ethnic background. However, most evangelical Christians are understandably more interested in the Jewish aspect of their history, for it was through Abraham's son Isaac that Messiah cameAdam, Seth, Noah and Shem, then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah, then David and Solomon on Joseph's side and Nathan on Mary's side to give us a royal stepfather in Joseph and a virgin mother in Mary. Obviously, salvation is of the Jews as Jesus said in John 4:22.
By the way, we get our word "Semitic" from Noah's son Shem. Semitic is the term used for a group of languages including Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. According to that definition, if a person were truly anti-Semitic, then he would be hostile to many people in our world. The term "anti-Semitic," coined in pre-World War II Germany, came to mean that someone is against only Jews.
God promised the land totally to Abraham and his descendants, a grant that was mostly realized after the 400-year stay in Egypt. The Exodus brought the Jews out and across the Arabian desert of Sinai and then after forty years through the Petra area in southern Jordan (an area known as Edom and the home of Esau), up through Moab and finally across the River Jordan into Canaan, or Israel as we call it today.
Great wickedness had developed there, and God designated the Jews to displace these wicked people or see them converted to Jehovah God, a process that lasted several years until about the time of the death of Joshua. Some of the people in the land were terrible degenerate giants. One example is Deuteronomy 2:10, where these giants are called Emims and Anakims. A later leftover is seen in Goliath of Gath who stood about 10 feet tall and had extra fingers and toes (II Samuel 21:20). The book of Joshua details these conquests.
Then how did other groups come to still be living there? Here's the rub. The Israelites suffered spiritual breakdown and couldn't dispose of all the Canaanites. Some did convert, however, and joined the Israelis. Uriah the Hittite (II Sam. 11:3) was a soldier in David's army who was married to Bathsheba and whom David had killed. One of the saddest stories in the Bible is that David sacrificed a brave convert from the Canaanites to murder in battle when he tried to cover his sin. Another example is Arunah, or Ornan, the Jebusite (an ancient name of Jerusalem), who offered King David his threshing floor for a site on which to build the Temple on Mount Moriah (II Samuel 24).
Some of the present problems involve those whom the Israelites didn't drive out or who didn't convert. The Bible points out a continuing disorder arising from these unconquered and controlled areas. The most notable of these was the Gaza Strip area, which included the five Philistine cities of Ashdod, Askelon, Ekron, Gaza and Gath (home of Goliath). All but Ekron are still cities today.
The area of the Philistines was called Philistia. Sounds a lot like Palestinian, doesn't it? Evidently the name Palestine harks all the way back, etymologically at least, to this term. The old King James Version used the word "palestina" in Exodus 15:14 and then in Isaiah 14:29 & 31 where it means the land of the Philistines. It uses "Palestine" in Joel 3:4. (Newer translations use "Philistia" in these passages.) "Philistia" is also found in Psalm 60:8, 83:7, and 108:9 and seems to mean what we would call greater Israel.
The Romans used the word Palestina to describe the general area when they ruled the world in Bible times. When the World War I settlement of the area under the mandate system gave the land areas of modern Israel and Jordan to the British, the entire area was called Palestine. That really muddies the issue, since, if a Palestinian would be someone living in Palestine, then all Jews, Arabs and even Christians living at the time in what is now Jordan and Israel would have been called Palestinians.
It seems that in more recent times, the political tilt of the enemies of modern Israel have made seemingly poor, dislodged and disenfranchised peoplemostly Arabsin the Gaza strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights exclusively the Palestinians.
Israel and a Palestinian State
The issue is whether this select group should be awarded a geographical area at the expense of what Israel has come to control. I know my answer will turn off some fervent supporters of Israel, which I am, but the answer is probably, "Yes."
First, let me say that I am an earnest supporter of Israel. I believe the land was given to them by God in several passages in the Old Testament, the first being in Genesis 15:18, "Unto your seed have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates." Interestingly, many supporters of modern Israel, while totally against any Palestinian state on the West Bank (Biblical Judea and Samaria) are silent about the areas of Lebanon and Syria, which comprise the northern part of the area in that passage. If the Jews are to have all that God promised them in this present age, why not demand that Lebanon and Syria be given to them? And how about western Jordan? God gave that to the tribes of Rueben and Gad and half of Manasseh.
After much thought and study, this is my understanding of the situation regarding what land Israel has a claim to.
Some parts of the land were never fully controlled by the Israelites when they entered the land under Joshua. There is even the promise by God that some people would never be driven out if they weren't taken care of by His deadline. Further, Israel's exclusive right to the land was lost through unbelief, basically rejecting the theocratic rule of God and not keeping the law God gave them. Judges 2:2 describes God's message to sinning Israel. "you have not obeyed my voice, why have you done this?" The punishment is found in Judges 2:21, "I will not henceforth drive out from before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died." And that specifically was the Gaza Strip, the area of Philistia and the people who bequeathed the term "Palestinian" to the world.
The first verses of Judges 3 detail the peoples who would remain. "Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites."
The Jewish people lost the land when terrible times of spiritual decline came upon the northern kingdom that resulted in their deportation by the Assyrians (II Kings 15) and Judah, the southern kingdom, was deported to Babylon (II Chronicles 36). The Jews never regained sovereignty over any of their beloved land until 1948. They took more of the land in 1967, but this has always been in question. Even today, the West Bank is known as the "occupied territories," and many in Israel believe it should be turned over to a legitimate, peacekeeping Palestinian leader to form a Palestinian state.
The point is that Israel would have to live with limited sovereignty in the best of times because of its unbelief in the past. Even the modern state of Israel has been reestablished in unbelief. In modern Israel, probably over 90% of its citizens are what we would call secular Jews. Only a small percentage is fervently orthodoxthose who literally believe their Old Testament Bible and specifically apply the land grant promises to modern Israel. Even some of them don't believe that the modern state of Israel is legitimate or that a Temple should be rebuilt since these are the work of Messiah, and, according to them, He has not come.
In fact, Israel lost what it had in 70 AD and what they could have had because of rejecting their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Today, Israel has to live with less than they could have had or will have under Messiah. I prefer that a Palestinian State not eat up part of the Promised Land, but, unbelief being what it is, conditions will be less than ideal.
I believe that the Bible does anticipate a Palestinian state. Isaiah 11:11 speaks of Israel being regathered a second time. This began to be fulfilled with the return of Jews to Palestine in the 1800s. Verse 14 of the same chapter is one of the most astonishing verses in the Bible. "And they will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab; and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them." (NASV). In other words, after Israel is fully restored, they will recapture Philistia (the land of the Palestinians) and will retake most of Jordan (Ammon, Moab and Edom). This is yet to take place. Recapturing Philistia, which is Gaza, could be done only if it had been lost, which would happen with the formation of a Palestinian state.
A Palestinian state could also be another fulfillment of Genesis 16:12, "and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." The borders of the proposed Palestinian state put it right in the middle of Israel!
God has allowed for a substantial number of Jews to return to the land and form a state under the United Nations partition plan of 1948. However, the established Jewish state in the end times will not have the full area promised to Abraham until a final attack about the time of the Millennium when Christ is received by a repentant Jewish nation (Romans 9:27). Only when national repentance surges across Israel will they have control of all the land. This is a national repentance predicted by Zechariah when Israel at the end of the Tribulation will "look on [the Messiah] whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10).
Meanwhile since modern Israel has returned basically in unbelief, they will have to live with an imperfect control of the land God promised them. For right now, political and military maneuvering might well decide much of what happens. And, of course, God's Word enjoins us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).
When unbelief ceases, the land will be restored and all the problems in the Middle East will be solved. A huge highway through Israel will eventually join Arab lands north and south (Isaiah 11:16; 19:2325), and Israelis and Arabs will jointly worship the Lord of Hosts, Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, as always, personal salvation and peace are available to anyone through faith in Christ. And someday, all believers will join in a triumphant global Kingdom when, as the hymnwriter put it, "Jesus shall reign where e'er the sun doth his successive journeys run. His Kingdom stretched from shore to shore, 'til moons shall wax and wane no more."
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
Note: Further historical background and Biblical analysis on Israel and the Palestinians is detailed in a companion publication, Israel: What You Need To Know, also available from Dedication Evangelism.