Recently, Pope Francis made a comment to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that created a global furore. Apparently, the Pope had said that Mahmoud Abbas was or could become an ‘Angel of Peace’ to Israel. The comment was followed by prolonged debates over Italian translation and a general outrage that culminated eventually in a personal correction by the Pope himself.
So what was all the fuss about?
To an Israeli, the idea that anyone would call Mahmoud Abbas an ‘Angel of Peace’, whose history of praising known terrorists responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians as well as numerous cases of incitement such as the notorious call for ‘Days of Rage’ in 2014, is understandably offensive. Not least in respect of failed attempts in the past year by the Palestinian Authority to form a lasting unity agreement with the terrorist group, Hamas, and whose very insignia depicts a map with Israel transformed entirely into an all green Palestine.
To me, though, the Pope’s comments highlighted a much deeper misunderstanding in the so-called ‘Peace Process’. I have no doubt that Pope Francis is sincere when he states that his words had only been intended to encourage Abbas to pursue peace, but what I really wondered is to what kind of peace was the pontiff alluding when he said it.
Recently, I have been gripped by a passage in Isaiah 32,
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The WORK of RIGHTEOUSNESS will be peace,
And the EFFECT of RIGHTEOUSNESS, quietness and assurance forever. (Isaiah 32:16-17 NKJV, emphasis added)
Global leaders have been hammering away at the ‘Peace Process’ for decades now, and it has proved much more static than its name suggests. The approach of these leaders has not progressed far beyond that of a frustrated parent who tells their two toddlers to kiss, make up and share their toys; it’s been patronising and has betrayed woeful ignorance of the region. The problem is that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are not toddlers and neither are the people they govern, and the history of violence and hatred between Jews and Arabs in this little portion of middle eastern land runs back deep into history. Leaders in the UN, in the USA and in the EU and now the Pope act like peace is something both sides can just wake up one day and decide to do, and they completely miss the key issue; righteousness. Peace is the effect of righteousness.
Recent negotiations and agreements have often demanded concessions, but they have never demanded righteousness. In 2014, hundreds of known and convicted Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli prisons just to keep Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table. In 2005, thousands of Jews were removed from their homes in the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza; an act which was the first time in history that any nation had voluntarily relinquished land to a group that had not yet accepted peace. In the midst of all of these negotiations, there has also always been the ‘elephant in the room’ of the ultimate lack of commitment by the PA to the ‘Two State Solution’. Their global branding is, as mentioned above, a green map of Israel. They still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Their ultimate end is what it has always been; the elimination of Israel. Negotiations, with a seemingly endless supply of international pressure for Israel to make concessions, are a mere means to that end.
The Middle East needs peace, but it needs righteousness first,
But seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS… (Matthew 6:33 NKJV, emphasis added)
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22 NKJV)
World leaders are seeking a peace that comes from human decision, but God says genuine peace is an effect of spiritual transformation. They are all too keen on developing ‘peace plans’ and ‘peace proposals’, but they have no plans or proposals to institute righteousness. The reality is that they could never develop such plans as long as they don’t seek God. Peace and righteousness actually both belong to one Man, and can’t be instituted by anyone else.
Peace I leave with you, MY PEACE I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14:27 NKJV, emphasis added)
Jesus describes two kinds of peace; peace that He gives and peace that the world gives, and He says the two are in total opposition to one another. The world is offering and even trying to enforce a peace in the middle east, and Jesus is also offering His peace plan. The two plans for peace in the middle east are in a deep and fundamental conflict with one another.
Some Christians would probably say that I’m being very negative – and that what I’m saying means we should just give up on peace in the middle east altogether. That’s NOT what I’m saying. I’m saying that peace comes only in the revelation of a Man, Jesus, Who IS our righteousness and peace.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might BECOME the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)
For He Himself IS OUR PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15 NKJV, emphasis added)
The problem to me with the Pope’s statement to Abbas is not really so much to do with Abbas’ track record with Israel, but more that it suggested that any man other than Jesus could institute peace between Israel and those who, quite frankly, would rather that Israel didn’t exist. I’m realizing more and more that when we are praying for peace in Israel and the middle east, we are praying for the revelation of Jesus above and beyond anything else.
Isaiah 32 begins by describing His peace plan,
Behold, a KING will reign in RIGHTEOUSNESS,
And princes will rule with justice.
A MAN will be as a hiding place from the wind,
And a cover from the tempest,
As rivers of water in a dry place,
As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)
Peace will come with the increase of Jesus’ government in the middle east. It will only come with prayer, and with the expectation of the Kingdom of God coming in power. Peace of the heart, peace between brothers and peace to nations only comes with His righteous government.