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EU, Israel and Palestine

Will there be war or peace in the Middle East?


At the time of writing this article the media is full of news about the possibility of an American attack on Iran. Israeli army leaders released an official assessment that a major conflict may erupt during 2007 involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinians and Iran. At the same time speaking on BBC radio on 5th February Tony Blair said that it is necessary for ‘the international community as a whole to recognise that there is no more important issue for us to resolve than Israel / Palestine’. He went on to say ‘And over the next few weeks I think there will be some real movement there.’ (Reported in the Jerusalem Post 5/2/07).


This ties in with a flurry of reports mainly coming from European sources of new peace proposals between Israel and the Palestinians. It also raises some interesting questions. Will the EU end up replacing the US as the dominant power in the region? Will any one of the Middle East flashpoints – Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Israel - push the region into conflict or will a temporary peace be brought about by international mediation? If it is peace, will it be a real peace or a temporary arrangement, which will eventually lead to an attempt to eliminate Israel? How does all this fit in with the prophecies of the Bible regarding the return of the Jewish people to Israel and the last days conflict over Jerusalem?


Let us look first at the EU. Germany took over the presidency of the EU in January and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her government will be very ambitious in trying to revive the European Union constitution in 2007, aiming to bring it to successful conclusion by the next European Parliament elections in 2009. The constitution was rejected by voters in referendums in France and Holland in 2005. It would have effectively created a single country in Europe with its own president, foreign ministry, army and tax system. Many see the constitution as vital for the success of the Euro currency.


She also demanded that there should be greater coherence in EU foreign policy and that the EU should have its own foreign minister. She said Europe must “accelerate the peace process in the Middle East.” Interestingly one of the areas where the Euro project is going ahead most effectively is in foreign policy with particular reference to the Middle East. A key figure in this area is Javier Solana, who was appointed the EU’s High Representative in 1999. Solana has been active in Middle East peace negotiations since 1991 and has the backing of all major EU countries in his efforts to secure a Middle East peace settlement. On a recent visit to Cairo, he called on Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement by the end of 2007. One of his aides speaking off the record said, “There will be a historic political evolution and movement in negotiations in the next few weeks and few months, unseen since the Camp David peace talks in 2000.” Solana has previously said that any peace deal would require Israel to withdraw from all territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War including the Old City of Jerusalem.


The EU counts all the countries bordering the Mediterranean as part of its ‘Near Neighbourhood’ and is increasingly exerting an influence in the region. Some see it eventually replacing the US as the dominant foreign power in the region as events in Iraq show that the US cannot go it alone. In recent months the EU took a leading role in the Middle East Quartet as the chief negotiator with Iran and it now has an active presence in Lebanon and Gaza and has on several occasions attempted to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.


Knesset member Shlomo Breznitz, who is a close friend of Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, proposed transferring control of Judea Samaria (the West Bank) to a European task force until the establishment of a Palestinian state. Following the establishment of the state, the strategic authority would be handed to security forces associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He made his proposal at the Herzliya Conference, a yearly event of Israel’s top brass which regularly maps out the country’s agenda for the coming year. In 2004 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his plan to withdraw from Gaza at this conference.


Breznitz told Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper that the territories should be transferred to the EU and not the US because after the invasion of Iraq ‘America lost its status as an honest broker in the view of the Palestinians and the Arab states.’ He claimed support from the Palestinians and Europeans for the proposal, stating that ‘without international help it will not be possible to resolve the conflict.’


PA President Abbas called for such a force to be sent to the Palestinian territories following the settlement of the war between Israel and Hezbollah last year. He also proposed an International Peace Conference and that the international force should implement the ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague to dismantle segments of the separation fence that were not built on the Green Line (pre 1967 border of Israel and the West Bank).


He also proposed a unity government with Hamas which would ‘accept all PLO and PA agreements and decisions since the acceptance of Israel in 1993.’ Since this involved recognising Israel, Hamas refused to join such a government which has led to the fighting between the two factions recently. Iran has been backing Hamas in its militant stand against Israel. Both the Iranian government of Ahmedinejad and Hamas have called for the elimination of the state of Israel.


Saudi Arabia has now brokered a peace agreement between Hamas and Fateh at the conference in Mecca. The Saudis are very keen to counter the influence of Iran in the region. As Saudi Arabia is the dominant Sunni Muslim nation and Iran the dominant Shiite Muslim nation, the tensions between these two branches of Islam are affecting relations between these two nations and large areas of the Middle East.


Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the influence of Iran in the region has grown considerably. The Shiite area of Iraq is increasingly under Iranian influence. Syria is allied to Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon is Iran’s surrogate power seeking to take control of the Lebanese government. According to a report by the Dubai based Gulf Research Centre the six Gulf Arab states are so worried about the potential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran that they would support a US military strike to prevent Iran getting the bomb.


All of this is greatly alarming to Saudi Arabia. It could be a reason for them to seek to contain the potentially explosive Israel – Palestinian conflict and work with the EU and USA for a peace settlement which would head off Iranian ambitions. Of course the Saudis are no friends of Israel and Hamas has a constitution which calls for the destruction of Israel. So is there any possibility of a peace agreement being thrashed out?


It is likely that the Saudis and the Palestinians would view any peace with Israel as being like the Truce of Hudaybiyya, which Mohammed made with the residents of Mecca at the beginning of his conquest of Arabia. In this treaty Mohammed made peace with the people of Mecca (who rejected his claim to be a prophet) and withdrew his forces to Medina. At the time of making the peace treaty the Meccans were stronger than Mohammed’s forces. Within two years Mohammed’s forces were stronger than the Meccans, so he abandoned the peace treaty and made war, defeating the opposition to Islam in Mecca and imposing it by force.


This made a precedent for Islam in which you can make an armistice with an enemy while he is stronger than you and if the armistice is good for the Islamic community. But when your enemy is perceived to be weaker, war is imperative and is demanded by the Koran. You are no longer bound by the peace treaty you made previously.


In 1995 the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin-Baz, handed down a religious ruling to the effect that Islamic law does not rule out peace with Israel. However he went on to explain that ‘peace with Israel is permissible only on condition that it is a temporary peace, until the Moslems build up the military strength needed to expel the Jews.’ By this logic the ‘peace plan’ is merely a trick to weaken Israel in order to deliver the final blow when the Islamic forces are strong enough. The leaders of Hamas have recently offered just such an arrangement with Israel - a 10 year truce with Israel during which they have said they would build a large Palestinian army and plan for the destruction of Israel.


All this is very interesting in the light of Bible prophecies. In the days before the Second Coming of Jesus there will be a return of the scattered Jewish people to the land of Israel (Ezekiel 36-7) where they will experience a time of trouble (Jeremiah 30-31, Ezekiel 38-9, Daniel 12) and that the focal point of this trouble will be a dispute over the status of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12-14, Luke 21). These prophecies show that the only lasting solution to this problem will be the return of Jesus who will be recognised as Messiah by the Jewish people (Zechariah 12.10). Then he will establish his Messianic rule from Jerusalem, bringing about the promised time of peace and security on the earth (Isaiah 2.1-4, Revelation 20).


On the subject of Europe, the book of Daniel prophesies a succession of four world empires, the last of which is ‘dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong’ (Daniel 7.7), describing the ancient Roman Empire. According to Daniel 7 some form of the Roman Empire would continue (as has happened through the dominance of Europe by the Roman Catholic Church) until the second coming of Jesus (Daniel 7.13, Matthew 24.30).


Daniel prophesied that in the days immediately preceding the second coming there would arise from ‘this kingdom’ (i.e. the Roman Empire), an entity which would be connected to it, but different from it (Daniel 7.24). Out of this would come a leader who is described as a ‘little horn … speaking pompous words’ (Daniel 7.8), ‘a stern faced king who understands sinister schemes’ (Daniel 8.23) and ‘the prince who is to come’ (Daniel 9.26). This one will persecute ‘the saints of the Most High’ (Daniel 7.25) and will also make some kind of covenant / treaty with many in Israel for ‘one week’ (7 years), a covenant which he will break half way through (Daniel 9.27).


His identity is further revealed in the New Testament book of Revelation where he is called the beast who persecutes the saints and brings in the ‘abomination of desolation’ (Daniel 11.31, Matthew 24.15-31, Revelation 13). The Revelation, written in the days of the persecution of Christianity by the Roman Empire (Daniel’s fourth beast), describes a future beast (the revived Roman Empire, the EU) whose leader will be given power by ‘ten kings’ (Revelation 17.10-13). He will make use of a corrupt religious system known as ‘Mystery Babylon’ to gain world power, but will end up double crossing this religious union and destroying it (Revelation 17.1-6, 16-18). His rule will be shattered by the Second Coming of Jesus in power and glory at the end of this age.


In Daniel 9.26-7 we read: ‘And after the sixty two weeks Messiah shall be cut off but not for himself; (i.e. the sacrificial death of the Messiah Jesus) and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary (the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 by the Romans, 40 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus). The end of it shall be with a flood and till the end of the war desolations are determined (following the first coming of Messiah there will be a prolonged period of wars and the desolation of Jerusalem). Then he (i.e. the prince who is to come) shall confirm a covenant (peace agreement) with many for one week (7 years – see Genesis 29.27); but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation which is determined is poured out on the desolate.’


This prophecy indicates that ‘the prince to come’, the one who will make the covenant with Israel will come out of the area of the Roman Empire. The people who destroyed the Temple were the Romans, so the ‘prince to come’ will also have a connection to Rome. He will offer peace but will turn out to be a deceiver who will break his word to Israel and instead bring desolation until he meets his appointed end at the return of the Messiah.


There is a strong emphasis on treachery in the prophecies, which surround the last days. ‘The treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously’ (Isaiah 24.16). Concerning the rise of the ‘prince to come’ Daniel says that ‘he shall act deceitfully’ and ‘he shall enter peaceably’ even though his real intention is to invade and plunder (Daniel 11.23-4). Leaders of Israel will make a ‘covenant with death’ with him and will eventually discover the mistake they have made: ‘For we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have covered ourselves’ (Isaiah 28.14-15).


It looks like current events in the Middle East are being set up for this scenario to unfold.