Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan returned to the spotlight recently, reminding conservative white evangelicals just how enthusiastically they embrace its pro-Israel approach.
Palestinian National Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought up the renewed focus during a speech at the United Nations Feb. 11, in which he rejected the proposal. President Trump had first unveiled what he called a “win-win” opportunity in late January at the White House alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Critics, however, call it a decidedly one-sided proposal aimed primarily at boosting both Netanyahu’s and Trump’s re-election bids by placating Israeli and Christian Zionists.
With Abbas’ stormy rejection of the plan last week, Christians who work for justice in Palestine were reminded why they don’t like it.
“The plan sounds good if you don’t read the plan,” said Kyle Cristofalo, director of advocacy and government relations for Washington, D.C.-based Churches for Middle East Peace.
While “Peace to Prosperity” promises $50 billion in aid for Palestinian cooperation, it gives Israel supreme political and military power in the region, relegates Palestinians to gerrymandered enclaves, denies access to much of Jerusalem, permits Israel’s annexation of portions of the West Bank and requires that popular grassroots groups, like Hamas, be disbanded.
“It makes a two-state solution even less of a reality,” Cristofalo said.
“For any of this plan to go forward, the Palestinians have to agree to all the stipulations – which they played no role coming up with,” he said.
The motivation driving the approach is as much theological as political, said David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.
“The Trump administration has tilted in the direction of hard-line Israeli and Christian Zionists in a very noticeable way in the last three years,” Gushee said. In doing so, the president “has been willing to consider and bless moves that have always been resisted by previous administrations.”
Leaders of those movements, including Christians United for Israel Chairman John Hagee, have consistently failed to demonstrate sensitivity toward the rights or plight of Palestinians, he said.
“Their narrative is a narrative that involves the state of Israel and the land as they understand it to be biblically given,” Gushee said.
It means a movement with dispensational premillennialist roots is, at least in part, shaping White House policy decisions.
Detached from realities on the ground in Palestine, adherents “fly off into speculative End Times scenarios that almost always involve conservative nationalist politics,” Gushee said.
According to news reports, the Zionists themselves could not agree more.
“From our perspective what he’s done is recognize the Bible as legal,” Mike Evans, Christian Zionist and leader of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, told Religion News Service recently.
Hagee, RNS reported, described Trump’s proposal as “the best peace proposal any American administration has ever put forth.”
Gushee said such assessments are predicated on a lack of empathy and on an understanding of Palestinians, and even Israelis, as nothing more than actors in a biblical drama.
Whether or not the president has actually adopted such views, Gushee added, it’s clear he is using them to cultivate the “profound loyalty” of white American Christians.
“He knows exactly what pushes their buttons and he delivers it,” he said.
“And they are a huge part of Americans who consistently say they support the president, and he knows without them he would be sunk.”