What Annexation? Evangelicals Celebrate Israel-UAE Agreement

While Israeli settlers accuse Netanyahu of betraying them on annexation, U.S. evangelical Christians see a glass half full

Amir Tibon
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Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrive for the "Getting America's Children Safely Back to School" event in the State Room of the white House in Washington, DC, on August 12, 2020.
Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrive for the "Getting America's Children Safely Back to School" event in the State Room of the white House in Washington, DC, on August 12, 2020. Credit: AFP
Amir Tibon

Evangelical supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump celebrated on Thursday his announcement of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, despite the fact that the deal between the countries also included an Israeli commitment to withhold unilateral annexation of settlements in the West Bank.

In recent months, annexation advocates in Israel and the U.S. hoped to pressure the Trump administration to approve Israeli annexation by enlisting the evangelical community, which is key to Trump’s re-election chances, to the cause of unilateral annexation. That effort failed, and on Thursday, while some leaders of the settlement movement in Israel criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for “abandoning” his annexation promise, evangelical leaders expressed jubilation at the news of Israel’s agreement with the UAE.

Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israeli organization in the evangelical community, released a lengthy statement applauding the “historical agreement” between the two countries. The organization’s founder, Pastor John Hagee, said that “CUFI backs the decisions of the democratically elected Government of Israel, including the decision to suspend sovereignty extension plans in this context.”

Hagee added that the agreement announced by Trump – which has been described as a “road map” toward normalization by the UAE’s crown prince – “proves yet again that when Israel’s Arab neighbors are prepared to make peace with the Jewish state, Israel will always be there to meet them.”

In June, CUFI called on Gulf States to normalize their ties with Israel in the wake of the Trump administration’s Middle East plan. 

Rev. Johnnie Moore, a member of President Trump’s advisory committee of evangelical leaders, told Haaretz following the announcement: “Evangelicals are elated. For years, our community has worked and prayed for peace between the United Arab Emirates, its neighbors and Israel.”

Moore added that “peace is a process that has to have a beginning. But, this is far beyond just a beginning. Baked into a deal like this one are the mechanisms to make peace really possible. It isn't a deal fixated on the problems to solve, but on the opportunities to be shared.” He called the agreement a “once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement”, and predicted that “it will be the first, not the last” such agreement between Israel and countries in the Middle East.

Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical author who lives in Jerusalem, organized several meetings in recent years between U.S. evangelical leaders and heads of Arab states, including the UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed. Rosenberg told Haaretz on Thursday that when his delegation met the crown prince almost two years ago, “he told us that peace with Israel was closer than we think.”

Rosenberg wrote on several occasions in the past half year that if Israel will pursue unilateral annexation, that would damage its improving ties with Gulf states like the UAE. The Israeli decision to withhold annexation and move along on normalization with the UAE was the right choice for the country, he said on Thursday.

“The people I’ve been in touch with in the Gulf, including people close to the crown prince, were stunned when Israel began moving toward annexation earlier this year,” Rosenberg said. “They were getting ready to get closer to Israel, and suddenly Israel was doing something very counter-productive.”

According to Rosenberg, “this is what prompted the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, to publish an unprecedented article in [Israeli newspaper] Yediot Aharonot, basically telling Israelis – you have to make a choice, either peace with us or annexation, but you can’t have both.”

The article, said Rosenberg, prompted Israeli and American officials to reach out to the UAE leadership and say - “prove to us that you’re serious, give us something to work with.”

Rosenberg predated that evangelical supporters of Trump and of Israel will be “electrified” by the agreement, and that it is a much higher priority for most evangelicals than annexation.

“Peace comes first - we are commanded in the Bible to pray for the pace of Jerusalem,” he said. “This will also be very important for the joint effort between Israel and Arab countries against Iran’s nuclear program. That’s another piece of good news that we should celebrate.”

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