WASHINGTON (BP)–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a joint meeting of Congress May 24 that “Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel.”
The prime minister went on to say that he is “willing to make painful compromises” to achieve peace with the Palestinians, recognizing that in a genuine peace Israel will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.
“And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers,” Netanyahu said. “… This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.
“No distortion of history … could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land,” he said. “But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us.”
Netanyahu was prompted to speak about land concessions after President Obama in a speech on the Middle East last week suggested Israel should return to the borders that were in place before the 1967 war as a starting place for negotiations. Netanyahu said the proposal would result in Israel having “indefensible borders.”
Rich Hastings, a trustee at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., told Baptist Press he has met with Netanyahu personally on several occasions and has great faith in the prime minister but was disappointed that he was willing to give up land.
“I would be more than willing to go back to God’s original borders for Israel any day,” Hastings, a member of First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo., and president of Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, said, adding that Israel would give up a vast expanse if the pre-1967 borders were revisited.
Hastings returned from a three-week trip to Israel May 15 and was in the Golan Heights along the northern border of Israel during recent unrest in neighboring Syria.
“It was not what was said so much as what was unsaid. Prime Minister Netanyahu never really addressed the Golan Heights at all,” Hastings said. “I believe that also is part of the land. If you look in the Scriptures, especially in the first two books of the Bible, it’s pretty clear that the area of the Golan Heights would be under Israel.”
Hastings referred to Genesis 15:18, which says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.'”
“It is clear that the Golan is part of Israel. It’s part of what God’s covenant with the people of Israel was, and I don’t believe that should be taken away,” Hastings said.
As an avid student of the Bible, Hastings took a particular interest in Israel nearly 20 years ago and has returned every year since, leading Christian tour groups and cultivating business relationships between Israel and the United States.
“Places that used to be safe to travel in the south like Ashdod and that whole area are not safe anymore because Israel was pressed by the United States to give up Gaza under Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon,” Hastings said. “They gave up the land, and now they get hit almost daily. If they give up land in the north in the Golan, then it becomes a real problem.”
Hastings believes Netanyahu was pressured by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to offer land to the Palestinians.
“I don’t think the State Department understands the geography or the bibliography of Israel — bibliography in the sense of the Bible component of it,” he said. “I just don’t think they understand it because one, we can’t give it away and two, the Lord is going to give it to the people of Israel. That’s what the Scripture says. Three, Israel can’t do it because they are attacked.
“I think the one thing that’s been proven by giving up land, and I think Gaza is the poster boy for that, is pressing Israel to give up land does not result in Israel’s security. It results in Israel’s insecurity,” Hastings said.
Jim Sibley, associate professor of Jewish ministry at Criswell College in Dallas and director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies, told Baptist Press he was encouraged by Netanyahu’s address.
“I think he was extremely clear and his perspectives seem consistent with the values that Americans hold dear. As far as peace, it takes two partners to make peace,” Sibley said. “All of us would hope for peace, yet biblically I’m pessimistic that we can actually accomplish peace before the Prince of Peace comes.”
Sibley believes that ultimately Israel will take possession of all of the land God gave the Jewish people, and in the interim, “there ought to be some way that the state of Israel can arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
“I think the prime minister is correct that the Palestinians must be willing to recognize the right of Israel to exist before they can be a true partner in any peace deal,” Sibley said.
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.