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Dangerous ground

The land dispute still rages in Israel

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22 Aug 2012 (All day)
Dangerous ground

The recent Levy Report delivered to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which reaffirms Israel’s legal rights in Judea and Samaria, has re-invigorated the national debate over the wisdom of retaining what has proven to be dangerous ground to hold on to. This debate was left smoldering in recent years because most Israelis realized there is no peace partner on the other side right now, so why waste time and emotional energy bickering with each other over this issue.

During the Oslo era, this land dispute raged around the recipe of “land for peace,” which inherently put opponents of Oslo on the defensive by suggesting they were anti- peace. Embracing hope, many Israelis bought into this formula even though the threat of Palestinian terrorism was growing, not waning. Opponents argued that Oslo was only endangering more Israeli lives.

The best insight I ever received on why so many Israelis were “fooled” by Oslo came from the late David Bar-Ilan – former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and senior policy adviser to Netanyahu in his first term as premier. He explained that during their centuries of exile, Jews were constantly threatened wherever they wandered. Largely landless, they instinctively learned to flee rather than stay and try to hold on to what little they did possess.

This instinct of placing self-preservation above all else, acquired during the painful Diaspora experience, is what drove Oslo. Yet David Bar-Ilan concluded that this debate, which he couched in terms of “land versus life,” had been rendered “academic” by Palestinian intransigence. He was right!

Today, this land dispute still centers around Jewish self-preservation but in a different context. It has more to do with maintaining Israel’s democracy and its good relations with the United States, which is so crucial to Israel’s security, especially in light of the growing Iranian nuclear threat. So proponents of territorial concessions now offer the simplistic “land for centrifuges” formula.

But most Israelis know it would be a foolhardy move at present, as it would only make Israel a more vulnerable and inviting target given the Iranian threat and the rise of radical Islam amid the chaotic Arab Spring. Meanwhile, the true hawks among them say Israel has to retain all the land to defend itself and because the land belongs to the Jews, period!

I agree that the Jewish people have a superior claim to sovereignty over all the Land of Israel, but by definition “sovereignty” includes the right to give land away. Through Oslo, Israel unfortunately impaired its own title – though not beyond repair. The Levy report represents an effort to reassert Jewish rights in the territories so long as the Palestinians remain stuck in their maximalist demands.

Yet there is a larger question here and that involves the “land promise” – the fact that God vowed to give the Land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants as an “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8). This promise has never been truly fulfilled and it must be or God will prove to be untrustworthy, according to the teachings of the Apostles (e.g., Hebrews 6).

Now some Christians have so spiritualized the land promise that they say Abraham was actually meant to inherit the cosmos. Yet the Land of Israel is still a piece of real estate in the Middle East which can be plowed, built upon and paved over like any other. And the Bible is clear that God meant a certain tract of land, even giving us several “metes and bounds” descriptions.

But many Christians argue that we should not get hung up on the “land question”; that it is not an essential doctrine of the faith; that land is not as important as salvation. The way they see it, this debate is about “land versus eternal life” and we all should know what wins out there.

Yet the land question matters greatly because it goes to the very nature and character of God: Can He be trusted to keep His promises? Hebrews chapter 6 basically tells us that the same unchanging God who swore by an oath to Abraham to multiply his descendants and give them the Land of Israel (Psalm 105:7-15), likewise swore that Christ is our High Priest forever (Psalm 110:1-4). So those who say the land promise no longer matters to God are also suggesting He could change His mind about the blood of Jesus. And that is dangerous ground for any Christian to be on!

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

 

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