The Bible, the “West Bank” and Peace Plans

July 1, 2020

by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update

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The ancient city of Jerusalem

Thousands of years ago, Abraham was given a divine promise that his descendants—those who came from his son Isaac and eventually were known as Israel—would possess the land of Israel. In more recent history, Abraham’s other descendants—those coming from his son Ishmael and eventually known as Arabs—have laid claim to much of that very same land. That territorial dispute is about more than just dirt. Abraham’s own tomb in the city of Hebron is claimed by both sides.

United States President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan to end the Israel–Palestinian conflict acknowledged the dispute over who controls the land in Judea and Samaria—also known as the “West Bank”—as a crucial problem to resolve. Trump’s plan, often called the “Deal of the Century,” included declarations confirming that key biblical sites were rightly claimed by Israel. The plan’s conceptual map also argued that other places full of biblical lore, such as Bethlehem and Jericho, should leave Israel’s control. What is often lost in debating the Israel–Palestinian conflict is the fact that what’s at stake is not just the land controlled by Jews or Arabs, but the very ground that Abraham, Joshua, David, Jesus (Yeshua) and other biblical heroes once walked.

Biblical Context

Before a true discussion of territorial claims and peace plans can happen, the land itself must first be defined. There are a number of significant biblical sites in the region known as Judea and Samaria, including but not limited to the following:

Bethlehem

  • The ancient city of Jerusalem (claimed by the Palestinians as “East Jerusalem”), where King David reigned, the First and Second Temples stood and Jesus (Yeshua) walked, prayed and is understood to have been crucified and resurrected (2 Samuel 5, 1 Kings 5–8, Mark 11, John 19–20)
  • Bethlehem, where David and Jesus were born and where Ruth lived and met Boaz (1 Samuel 16, Luke 2, Ruth 2)
  • Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—along with their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah—are all buried (Genesis 23, 49)
  • Jericho, where the walls miraculously came down after Joshua obeyed God’s command (Joshua 6)

    Hebron

  • Shechem (which the Palestinians call “Nablus”), where Joshua declared he and his house would serve the Lord and where Joseph is buried (Joshua 24)
  • Bethel or “Beit El,” where Jacob had a vision seeing the entrance to heaven (Genesis 28)

Israel does not only have a biblically sentimental claim to the land, but also a divine claim through God’s promise to Abraham. There is also a legal claim from purchases of land made by Abraham for the tomb in Hebron, Jacob for land in Shechem and David for the Temple Mount. It’s not just history; it’s heritage.

Jericho

Historical Context

Despite Israel’s biblical and historical claim on these sites, the original 1947 United Nations partition plan was a biblical nightmare for the Jewish people. A map of the territory envisioned in the plan shows biblical cities of Hebron, Jericho, Beit El and Shechem given to the Palestinians, while Bethlehem and Jerusalem were to be controlled by an international administration. While that map was never fully put into effect due to the Arab invasion of Israel in 1947, Israel ultimately lost all of those sites in the war before regaining them in the 1967 defensive conflict known as the Six Day War.

Shechem

As a result of the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, the territory was again repartitioned into what was called Areas A, B and C. Area A was under both Palestinian civil and security control, while Area B was to have shared security control by Israel and the Palestinians. According to the Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement, Area B was under Palestinian civil control too. Together, Areas A and B—both under the civil jurisdiction of the Palestinians—included Jericho, Shechem, Bethlehem and parts of Hebron. Israel for the time being retained control of the biblical city of Jerusalem—although as part of Area C, it was expected to eventually transition to the Palestinians once a final deal was reached.

Trump’s Contex

Bethel or “Beit El”

In the “Peace to Prosperity” plan, the Trump Administration effectively acknowledged Judea and Samaria as land where Israel has “asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people,” even while calling for Israel to surrender some of that land to the Palestinians.

Trump’s plan refuses to force anyone from their current home, which would effectively provide recognition of Israel’s control over key sites such as Beit El and parts of Hebron. The biblical city of Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control with continued Jewish–Arab joint administration of the Temple Mount.

Yet it’s not all positive for Israel. A conceptual map in the Trump plan—which could be subject to change—shows Bethlehem, Shechem and Jericho as part of a “future State of Palestine.” While obtaining such a state per the plan is subject to substantial conditions the Palestinians may never accept or achieve, the groundwork would be laid for the land to be out of Israel’s hands.

A key goal of Israel’s plan to apply sovereignty to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, called “annexation” by some, is to secure American recognition of that sovereignty. The context is within the Trump peace plan and its potential for a Palestinian state and as a result has led to disagreements even among the Israeli leaders in Judea and Samaria on whether to accept the Trump plan.

Given what’s at stake, the steps Israel, America and the Palestinians take next are more than just steps to or away from peace. They are steps to decide who controls the land that once was home to the greatest men and women of faith—the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

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