Why I disagree with President Obama on Israel

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On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2334, which calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” The US chose to abstain, allowing the resolution to become international law.

Why is this resolution so important to Israel, the US, and the world? As a frequent traveler to Israel and the Middle East, this development is especially personal for me. Let’s survey the basic facts, then I’ll offer my view on this vital issue.

What are the “settlements”?

The “West Bank” refers to an area slightly larger than Delaware situated on the western bank of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. According to the CIA, it is home to 2.7 million Palestinians. Along with the Gaza Strip (an area along the Mediterranean coast), it is land Palestinians intend for their future state.

Israel captured the area during the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1980–81, Israel annexed East Jerusalem as well. Some 630,000 Israelis now live in 123 government-authorized settlements and about 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank and twelve major neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Israel views these settlements as security measures to protect its people.

However, many nations consider the settlements illegal. They are also seen as a major impediment to the “two-state solution” whereby Palestine would become an independent state alongside Israel. Critics claim that Israel is stealing land Palestine needs for its state.

Israel has offered to give Palestinians land equivalent in size and value to the areas used for its security settlements. But many living on land that would be ceded to Palestine are opposed to such an arrangement, and Palestinian leaders continue to insist on borders determined in 1967.

Why is this vote so significant?

American support for UNSC resolutions critical of Israel is far from unprecedented. Such resolutions have commonly been adopted under previous administrations. What makes this resolution different?

UNSC 2334 declares all Israeli settlements and buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal. America had vetoed all such resolutions before Friday. US officials explained that they acted in response to recent acceleration in settlement growth and the lack of progress in peace talks with the Palestinians.

What is my view?

I respectfully disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to permit the UN resolution, for three reasons.

One: It affects historically Jewish and Christian areas.

As Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz notes, UNSC 2334 applies not only to the West Bank settlements but also to historically Jewish areas taken by Jordan in 1948 and liberated by Israel in 1967. The Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City are all part of East Jerusalem and thus under the scope of the UN resolution. Since it demands that Israel “completely cease all settlement activity,” it would forbid renovation or even maintenance of these areas.

Two: It will not promote peace.

Susan Rice, the current National Security Adviser, noted when she was serving as UN ambassador in 2011 that it is “unwise for the [UNSC] to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.” The UN is famously aligned against Israel and has been so for many years. That’s why the US has never attempted to use the UN to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

UNSC 2334 will escalate antagonism between Israel and its opponents. Relations with the US are obviously at their lowest point in years. Israel is presently reprimanding countries that supported the UN vote. Further diplomatic tensions are likely.

Three: It sends the wrong signal to Israel’s enemies.

On May 14, 1948, the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed the creation of a new State of Israel. That same day, US President Harry Truman recognized the new nation and its government. From then to now, American support for Israel has been vital to the Jewish state and its security.

Any suggestion that American support for Israel is wavering could embolden Israel’s enemies. With ISIS making advances in Egypt and Syria, the growth of Hezbollah’s military ambitions in Lebanon, and the continued threat of Hamas from the Gaza area, these are problematic times for Israel.

I believe that the US should continue to pursue peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Both peoples are loved by God and deserve to live in security. But I also believe that the US should employ strategies that will make a practical and positive difference in the Middle East. UNSC 2334 will not make such a difference and could make things worse.

It is ironic that conflict in Israel emerged over the Christmas weekend. Clearly, the Prince of Peace is the only One who can bring lasting peace to the human heart. Robert Murray McChenye noted: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

As Jesus prays for our peace, we should “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Please take a moment now to intercede for spiritual awakening in the Middle East and around the world.