How Christian Zionists got their man into the White House
On 18 July, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered the keynote speech at the annual summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Founded in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee, an evangelist from San Antonio, CUFI claims to be the largest pro-Israel group in the United States, with three million members. Hagee endorsed Donald Trump for president in May 2016.
The Christian Zionist movement is not a recent phenomenon. There have been more than a century of efforts to restore Israel to a largely illusory biblical glory
Pence once again pledged that the Trump administration would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, this time to Christian supporters of Israel who have become increasingly restive at Trump's failure to make good on his campaign promise for Israel - signalling what some analysts viewed as a new ideological shift for the White House.
White House's ideological shift
"Pence's speech marks a fundamental change in the language that the White House has historically employed to articulate the United States' relationship with Israel," Dan Hummel, a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in the Washington Post.
That fundamental change is towards Christian Zionism, an ideology that bases its political support for Israel on the belief that the modern state of Israel is a manifestation of prophecies in the Bible - and that the very fate of the United States is prophetically linked with Israel.
Hummel describes Pence as an "ardent Christian Zionist" who expresses his support for Israel in explicitly prophetic terms. His appearance at the summit "signals a new era of Christian Zionist influence in the White House".
Pence is not alone in his efforts to convince Trump to fulfill what the Christian Zionists regard as a biblical prophecy. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, his daughter Sara Huckabee Sanders, now the White House press secretary, and Sara Palin wield great influence in the Trump administration and are ardent Christian Zionists.
Roy Moore of Alabama, who Trump endorsed for the Senate election in Alabama, is numbered among the flock.
Christian Zionists' Armageddon
Christian Zionists, who number about 20 million in the United States, have poured millions of dollars over the past decades seeking an expanded Israel. They have sponsored the migration of thousands of Jews from Russia, Ethiopia, and other countries.
They contribute millions toward the construction of new settlements in occupied Palestinian areas to accommodate the migrants. "Moving to Jerusalem proves that our president stands by his word," Hagee said.
Benjamin Netanyahu is of the unshakable, perhaps delusional, conviction that he has been chosen by God to lead the Jewish people
He also said some other things less lucid: "turning Jerusalem over to the Palestinian's would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban". He also said that the Jewish people are going to burn in Hell for all of eternity unless they abandon Judaism and convert to Christianity following the battle of Armageddon.
That is some of what John Hagee believes, and presumably what three million followers in the CUFI and inclusive of the wider 40-million strong Evangelical movement believe, or at least partially believe.
There remains the most frightening speculation that some, or any, of what Hagee believes may also be believed by the president himself. Trump's obsession with Islam might have been partially informed by former head of CUFI late pastor Jerry Falwell's anti-Islam views.
Honest broker no more
On 6 December, Trump explicitly denied any lingering hope for a two-state solution. "After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result," he said.
The recognition of Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel is far more than symbolic. In effect it denies a most fundamental obligation of the peace process, a two-state solution.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has acknowledged as much. The Palestinians are now convinced that the United States can never be an honest broker, or neutral moderator - although the United States has never been a truly dispassionate moderator.
The enormous political influence of Israel in the United States has made honest dealings impossible, and that duplicity is blatantly obvious now. Abbas told an international summit last month that the United States was unfit to mediate the Middle East conflict, marking a major policy shift after decades spent courting American goodwill.
Abbas announced the shift, which came in response to Trump's declaration on Jerusalem, at a summit of Muslim leaders that condemned the US move and called for world recognition of a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.
On 21 December, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn Trump's Jerusalem decision. Nearly all of the member states of the United Nations condemned it despite his threats to deny member states who objected further funding.
That brings us to an abrupt close the peace process through the successful effort of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, to demand the Palestinians accept full capitulation to Israel's demands. The Kushner family and he have contributed millions to Israel's settlement efforts in the West Bank.
The outcome of his objective, to deny the Palestinian's any remedy for their grievances, should never have been in doubt once he was given absolute authority by Trump.
The return of the Messiah
A critical issue for hardline Zionists and their Christian allies is the location of the ruins of the first and second Jewish Temples beneath the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third most revered site of Islam. A fundamental tenet of the Christian Zionist theory is that a new temple be built upon those ancient ruins.
Palestinians believe that Israeli archaeological diggings underneath the al-Aqsa mosque compound to build a new temple constitute a threat to the mosque. The Christian Zionists are vehement that this be done to fulfill prophecy. They believe that once construction of the new Temple is complete the return of the Messiah will be inevitable.
The only hope for the Palestinians is a gradual inclusion of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza into what will become a single entity, Israel. A most unlikely outcome. The Israelis will never acquiesce to allow either Palestinian Muslims or Christians citizenship, and voting rights, in what is now proclaimed by Netanyahu as the Jewish State.
Netanyahu is of the unshakable, perhaps delusional, conviction that he has been chosen by God to lead the Jewish people. Eyal Arad, a former top political advisor, said: "The prime minister has a messianic notion of himself, as a person called to save the Jewish people from the new Holocaust."
He had better hurry. He is now under his fourth investigation for corruption and malfeasance while in office.
Pence is equally convinced of God's calling. His favourite biblical passage, which he quotes often is, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The Republican Party leans heavily on the Christian Zionists for both cash, and votes
Pence is ambitious beyond his seeming lack of credentials and his political failures as the governor of Indiana. Pence "made it clear" to the Republican National Committee that he was willing to take Trump's place as the GOP candidate for president in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016.
A truly evangelical president?
Last summer, the New York Times reported that Pence appeared to be preparing for a presidential bid. Pence vehemently denied the story. Pence imagined the real possibility of the GOP turning on Trump after another major scandal ensuring Pence's subsequent rise.
The United States could end up with a truly evangelical president. What is worrying is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems certain God believes in him.
Mainstream Christian Biblical scholars regard the Bible text as allegorical. The Christian Zionists believe in a literal interpretation of the tediously, torturous text of the book of Revelations.
The Christian Zionist movement however is not a recent phenomenon. There have been more than a century of efforts to restore Israel to a largely illusory biblical glory. In the 1600s King James I suggested that "the End of Days" would take place in Palestine.
He believed, as the Christian Zionists do now, that the Hebrew tribes must be reunited and return from diaspora so the final battle between the forces of evil and the messiah could take place at Armageddon.
Another Balfour declaration
Lord Balfour, British foreign secretary, and his prime minister, David Lloyd George, were both sympathetic to Christian Zionism. In 1917, three years before the League of Nations gave Britain the mandate over Palestine, Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild, of the immensely wealthy Jewish banking family, and an early proponent of Zionism, that "His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object."
The State of Israel might not have come into being without the Balfour Declaration. When the United States recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, we do so, at least in part, to summon the Messiah and begin preparation for the battle at Armageddon.
That is what the Christian Zionists believe, and have relentlessly demanded of the administration. The Bible tells us Jesus will be back to fix it all.
The Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Shintos, the Animists, the Voodooists, the Catholics, agnostics, and atheists, et al, will be converted to the Christian Zionists legions of the Lord. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, will prevail and undo all evil that now befalls us. He will annihilate the anti-Christ and his barbaric horde, that includes the Russians, and he, Jesus, will reign as king on earth for a thousand years of bliss and plenty.
The State of Israel might not have come into being without the Balfour Declaration
But first they believe ancient Israel must be made whole and unencumbered by heretics of any religious persuasion, other than their own, in order to fulfill the biblical prophecy of Christ’s return to earth.
That second coming however does not bode well for the Israelis according to the Christian Zionist liturgy. Israel will sadly be no more. Israel will be destroyed during this apocalypse.
According to their belief, Jesus, distressed that the Jews did not regard him as the Messiah, will kill all the Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity, or more precisely Christian Zionism. Jesus, it seems, is not one to turn the other cheek when slighted.
If you believe otherwise, if you believe that Biblical prophesies as interpreted by the Christian Zionists are lunacy, you are in the helpless majority. Because the Christian Zionists managed, through the positioning of Mike Pence, and fellow believers, in the White House an incredible measure of influence over perhaps the most powerful nation on earth.
They believe that only the apocalypse will purify the world and the United States shall be the instrument which brings forth God's wrath. The great resources, the military might, of the United States is part of the divine plan to bring the Apocalypse upon us.
Trump will do all to encourage the blind loyalty of this inherited flock. The Republican Party leans heavily on the Christian Zionists for both cash, and votes. They have a profound effect on the direction of the party, even if the party now seems to be more Theocratic than political.
The Christian Zionists are most likely to vote; they number over twenty million, and are generous contributors. They are the base of this new Republican theocracy.
They do not want peace with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have no place in Biblical Israel. The Christian Zionists want them gone to purify the nascent Kingdom of Israel and allow their eternity of bliss in paradise.
-Morgan Strong, a former professor of Middle Eastern History, was a consultant to 60Minutes on the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: US Vice President Mike Pence's trip to the Middle East has been delayed two days ahead of planned arrival (AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.