Will American Evangelicals support immediate annexation?

49% of Americans approved of Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Among white, born again, Evangelical Christians, the numbers were significantly higher.

Christian pilgrims and tourists react during a religious retreat lead by T.B. Joshua, a Nigerian evangelical preacher on Mount Precipice, Nazareth (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Christian pilgrims and tourists react during a religious retreat lead by T.B. Joshua, a Nigerian evangelical preacher on Mount Precipice, Nazareth
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Will American Evangelicals support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he decides to immediately and unilaterally annex – or apply Israeli sovereignty over – some 30% of the land commonly known as the “West Bank,” and referred to in the Bible as “Judea and Samaria,” as early as next month?
It is an interesting question, and one that I find myself being asked again and again in recent weeks by Israeli officials, Arab leaders, Mideast analysts and reporters here in Israel.
However, most Evangelicals in the US have not even heard of the “annexation debate.” In the last two months, I have not received a single email, text or phone call from an American Evangelical about this. Not even from leaders. Some probably are keeping an eye on the discussion, but the vast, vast majority are not. Why? Because they are, rightly, concentrating on far more pressing domestic matters – COVID-19, lockdowns, massive unemployment, how to reopen society and reboot the economy, when to reopen their churches, how to deal with the horror of the George Floyd murder and how to reform the criminal justice system while reestablishing law and order in American cities beset by riots and looting.
That said, for those here in Israel and the Arab world who are understandably interested in how Evangelicals may react, let me break the issue down into a series of questions and offer my best assessment of each. Such assessments are based on extensive polling of Evangelicals that I have commissioned in recent years, as well as conversations with thousands of pastors, ministry leaders and rank-and-file members.
First, would most American Evangelicals like to see Israel peacefully incorporate more of the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria into the current, modern, sovereign state of Israel, so long as it does not infringe on the ability of Palestinians to live in safety and security and be able to build a more prosperous future for themselves? Absolutely.
Second, do Evangelicals want to see an explosion of tension, or even new violence, with Palestinians that could be sparked by Israeli annexation? Absolutely not.
Third, do Evangelicals want to see Jordan withdraw its ambassador and suspend its peace treaty with Israel, or see the Hashemite monarch rocked by instability, riots and/or violence as the result of such an Israeli move? By no means.
Fourth, do Evangelicals want to see Israel hit with international condemnations, boycotts and sanctions that could result from annexation? No.
Fifth, if Israel were to forego any immediate annexation and first focus on securing an historic new peace treaty with an Arab state like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia or Morocco – and do so with the active diplomatic assistance of US President Donald Trump’s administration – might American Evangelicals prefer this to all the troubles and complications that annexation could bring? I believe they would. Above all, Evangelicals want Israel to be safer, stronger and more peaceful, not necessarily bigger. Yes, most Evangelicals believe that Bible prophecy indicates that one day Israel will have all the land that was promised to Abraham, which is far more territory than Israel has today. However, nowhere in the Bible, certainly not in the New Testament, are believers commanded to focus on expanding Israel’s territory. Rather, the emphasis time and time again is on peace. King David commanded us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Jesus told us that “blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) The Apostle Paul told us that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Sixth, will Evangelicals turn out to vote for Trump in larger numbers if he gives Israel the green light to annex large swaths of Judea and Samaria? I don’t believe so. Most Evangelicals already believe that Trump is the most pro-Israel president in American history. If he could mid-wife a peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country, that would certainly energize Evangelicals. It might even win over some independents and even some pro-Israel Democrats. Supporting an immediate annexation is unlikely to move the needle, however, and could even backfire on Trump with Evangelicals and other voters if violence and chaos erupts.
Let’s look at numbers.
In March, just before the release of my latest political thriller – The Jerusalem Assassin, about an American president hosting a peace summit in Jerusalem between Israel and Saudi Arabia – I commissioned a national survey of 1,000 likely American voters to better understand how Americans view the Middle East peace process. The firm I used was McLaughlin & Associates, whose founder, John McLaughlin, does polling for both Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
We found that 49% of Americans approved of Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and the administration’s on-going efforts to help the Israelis and Palestinians make peace. Only 27% disapproved, while 24% said they didn’t know enough about the president’s plan to answer.
Among white, born again, Evangelical Christians, the numbers were significantly higher. Fully 65% said they approved of the Trump peace plan. Only 15% disapproved. The rest were not sure.
At the time, we did not ask about annexation because it did seem to be such an imminent issue. How quickly things have changed.
We did, however, ask two other questions relevant to this discussion.
“If Palestinian leaders are not ready or willing to make peace with Israel, what should Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman do?”
Only 18% of all Americans – and 17% of Evangelicals – said that “the Gulf Arab states should continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian leadership and refuse to negotiate and sign their own separate peace treaties with Israel.”
By contrast, 45% of all Americans – and 55% of Evangelicals – said “the Gulf Arab states should no longer wait for the Palestinian leadership but should instead move forward immediately with negotiating and signing their own separate peace treaties with Israel.”
We also asked this: “In 1979, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. Yet these were more than 25 years ago. If another Arab Muslim leader were to genuinely make peace with Israel soon – even visiting Jerusalem and speaking honestly and warmly to the Israel people and their parliament – would that change your view of that Arab leader and his nation change?”
The results were intriguing. Some 51% of all Americans – and 53% of Evangelicals – said they would view such an Arab Muslim leader more positively.
Bottom line: American Evangelicals deeply love Israel but they are not paying one bit of attention to the debate over annexation. They certainly will if it creates a new explosion or international condemnations of Israel. And Trump is unlikely to get any electoral bounce among Evangelicals by giving Israel a green light to annex. He would, however, likely get a significant bounce by helping Israel make peace with another Arab state since the Palestinian leadership clearly is not ready.
The writer is a dual-US-Israeli citizen who lives with his family in Jerusalem. He is also a ‘New York Times’ bestselling author with some five million copies of his books in print. His latest political thriller, ‘The Jerusalem Assassin,’ was published in March