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Berkowitz: Will Christian Zionists Obstruct Peace?

Will America's Christian Zionists obstruct the shaky peace process?

By Bill Berkowitz

President George W. Bush returned home from his trip to the Middle East optimistic about the possibility of a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians before he leaves office in January of next year.

"In order for there to be lasting peace, [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert have to come together and make tough choices," Bush said at a joint press conference after meeting with Abbas. "And I'm convinced they will. And I believe it's possible -- not only possible, I believe it's going to happen, that there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office. That's what I believe."

If the Bush administration manages to pull off what several presidents before him have been unable to, it will be a major achievement. Why do some Christian Zionists in the U.S., who have consistently supported Bush's foreign policy initiatives and believe that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical "End Times" prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support, feel betrayed by Bush's actions?

Business as usual in Middle East

Although Bush is upbeat, it has been business as usual in the Middle East. In recent days, Avegdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beitcinu, announced his party's resignation from Israel's coalition government, disenchanted with the peace process; Israeli forces launched an attack on the Gaza Strip that killed 17 people, including the son of Mahmoud al-Zahor, the former foreign minister of Hamas; and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the Likud Party, told President Bush straight up that "Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and will remain under Israeli sovereignty for eternity."

The anger amongst Christian Zionists revolves around both the future status of Jerusalem, and whether a peace agreement lessens the chances for a preemptive strike against Iran. While Bush appeared to reassure Christian Zionists that Iran was "the world's leading state-sponsor of terror", the issue of Jerusalem remained disconcerting.

Evans' 'Save Jerusalem Campaign'

Dr. Mike Evans, the head of The Jerusalem Prayer Team, the author of the New York Times bestseller "The Final Move Beyond Iraq," and the publisher of the online Jerusalem World News, took Bush to task in a recent piece titled "Betrayed: The Bush Conspiracy to Divide Jerusalem," for "moving full-speed ahead with his Annapolis Road Map plan to have a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital before he leaves office."

He argued that the Road Map, proposed by the international Quartet -- the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations -- "has become corrupted by Saudi Arabia and other fundamentalist Islamic forces into a plan to divide Jerusalem and make east Jerusalem -- the home of Christianity -- the capital of a Palestinian state and force Israel to return all lands reclaimed in 1967."

The Save Jerusalem Campaign has gathered more than 100,000 signatures and is hoping for one million.

Rosenberg's view

Joel C. Rosenberg, the founder of The Joshua Fund, whose operating motto is "Pray for peace, but prepare for war", and is also a best-selling author, reported on his blog on Jan. 10 that despite the past failures, "we should not write off this possibility [of peace] too quickly."

Rosenberg maintained that several events have provided a more fertile ground for a successful peace process; the death of Yasser Arafat and the rise of Mahmoud Abbas, a "slightly-more moderate tactician who seems intent on striking a deal with the Israelis if he can first survive assassination at the hands of Hamas or other radicals"; Ariel Sharon's demise due to a stroke, and the rise of Olmert, "a man who seems almost desperate for a peace deal with the Palestinians, even if that means dividing Jerusalem (a terrible idea we should strongly oppose)"; regime change in Iraq; the rise of an Iranian threat to so-called moderate Middle Eastern regimes; and Bush's desire to get something done before he leaves office.

Rosenberg appears confident that even if a peace deal is struck, it will not necessarily be contradictory to Biblical prophesy: "While...Matthew 24 and Luke 21 indicate that there will be wars, rumors of wars and revolutions in the Middle East in the last days, Ezekiel 38 also indicates that for a season at least the Jews will be living 'securely' in the land prior to the apocalyptic War of Gog & Magog (the Russian-Iranian alliance to destroy Israel)."

According to Rosenberg, this could suggest the possibility of "some sort of peace treaty being agreed to in the not-too-distant future, though it should be noted that no treaty is specifically mentioned in the text and the word 'peace' -- shalom -- is never used in Ezekiel 38. Separately, the prophecies of Daniel 9 actually do indicate that Israel and her neighbors will sign a peace treaty -- albeit a false, deceptive and short-lived one -- in the last days, though Bible scholars are not clear as to which prophecy will come true first, Ezekiel's or Daniel's."

The Joshua Fund is organizing a conference slated for Apr. 10 in Jerusalem to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary. According to Rosenberg, the purpose of the conference is "to educate people as to the serious threats facing the Jewish State and her neighbors, mobilize Christians around the world to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and provide humanitarian relief to the poor and needy and those suffering from war and terrorism."

Hagee holds the line on Jerusalem

As Sarah Posner points out in her new book "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters", Pastor John Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI), launched in February 2006 to provide lobbying support for Israel, believes that "'Jerusalem must remain undivided as the eternal capital of the Jewish people' (meaning no portion of it should be turned over to the Palestinians)."

"Hagee's injection of the charged rhetoric of biblical prophesy into contemporary foreign policy," Posner writes, "has catapulted him to the forefront of an American Christian Zionist movement that has become the darling of conservative Israel hawks in Washington and neoconservatives yearning for regional war in the Middle East."

Hagee, who heads up an 18,000-member Pentecostal congregation in San Antonio, Texas, "has been remarkably silent about Bush's Middle East trip," Posner told IPS. "As you know, he opposes dividing Jerusalem and opposes a two-state process. The opposition to dividing Jerusalem is a biblical thing -- it has to be in Jewish hands for the second coming. On the other hand, he may have been happy to hear Bush's sabre-rattling on Iran."

Posner noted out that a recent e-mail from Hagee to his supporters was more biblical "than political". She says that she expects U.S. Christian Zionists and Hagee in particular, to continue "to have clout as long as the Republican Party thinks it needs their votes".

ENDS

**************

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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