What is the state of religious freedom in Israel & the Arab world? Here’s what the media is not telling you. (My keynote address to the State Department’s conference on religious freedom.)

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Jul 182019
 

Ministerial-Joel

(Washington, D.C.) — For the last several days, more than 1,000 Foreign Ministers, religious and civic leaders, academics and survivors of religious persecution from more than 100 countries have gathered in Washington for a State Department conference on advancing religious freedom.

Keynote speakers have included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Pence, U.S. Ambassador At Large For International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi survivor of ISIS Nadia Murad, Sheikh bin Bayyah (considered one of the most influential Sunni Muslim theologians in the world), and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

I was also asked to be a keynote speaker, and was honored to do so. Here is the full text of my remarks. You can also watch the video of my remarks by clicking here (Amb. Brownback’s introduction begins at 32:40, and my remarks begin at 34:15 and run about 16 minutes.)

ADVANCING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE MIDDLE EAST: AN ISRAELI EVANGELICAL’S PERSPECTIVE

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

In an age of horrific attacks against Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of other religions, these words from the Book of Proverbs must be our mission.

To this end, I want to thank the President, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Ambassador Brownback for making the advancement of religious freedom a top global priority, and for holding this conference to let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.            

I have titled my remarks, “Advancing Religious Freedom In The Middle East: An Israeli Evangelical’s Perspective,” and I’d like to share a few thoughts in two areas:

  • The state of religious freedom in Israel.
  • The state of religious freedom in the Arab Muslim world.

First, some context. I am the grandson of Orthodox Jews who escaped from Russia in the early years of the 20th century when Jews were being beaten, raped and murdered in the “pogroms.” By God’s grace, my grand-parents and great-grandparents came to America and it was here that they were free to pray, keep kosher, and study Torah.

It was here that my father was raised Orthodox Jewish. It was here that my father was free to study not only the Hebrew Scriptures, but the New Testament, as well. Free to study and explore. Free to ask hard and unpopular questions.Free to come to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the Messiah of whom our prophets wrote and our people longed. So, in 1973, my father became follower of Jesus.

A few years later, I became a follower of Jesus, as well, and I couldn’t be more grateful.  

Five years ago, my wife and sons and I were free to make another choice – we embarked on a process known as “making Aliyah.” That is, we became citizens of Israel. To be clear, we became dual citizens of the U.S. and Israel. We sold our home, sold or gave away most of our possessions, and moved to Israel to start a new life.

Today, we live in Jerusalem. Two of our sons serve in the Israeli army. Slowly but surely, we’re putting down our roots in ancient soil. It has been the hardest and most exciting journey of our lives, and it has given us a unique perspective on the state of religious freedom in Israel.            

THE STATE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN ISRAEL

The State of Israel is certainly not perfect, yet it is a modern miracle.

  • Born out of the ashes of the Holocaust.
  • The fulfillment of ancient prophecies.
  • Thriving, despite repeated wars and enemies Hell-bent on our annihilation.
  • A booming economy.
  • And a robust and raucous democracy – the only in our region.

What’s more, Israel is a magnificent model of religious freedom. A safe harbor for Jews from all over the world, regardless of how religious or secular they may be. And the safest, freest country in the Mideast for people of all faiths, and no faith.

  • 75% of Israel’s 9 million citizens are Jews.
  • 20% are Muslims or Druze — full citizens, with equal rights, absolutely free to attend mosque, read the Qur’an, and raise their children in their faith.
  • Only about 2% are Christians — Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Messianic Jews; we are a small minority, but absolutely free to practice our faith & to preach it.

Do religious minorities in Israel face a variety of governmental and societal challenges? We do, including an inordinate and unhealthy control by one faith stream – ultra-Orthodox Judaism, a relatively small minority – over political decisions affecting the lives of everyone else, the vast majority in Israel, including rules governing marriage, divorce, burial, immigration and so much else.

There is much Israel’s government can and should do to make reforms and improve the quality of life for religious minorities – and the sooner the better. 

That said, regardless what you hear from our critics, Muslims and Christians do not face government persecution. And there is certainly no apartheid.

  • Muslim, Druze and Christian Arabs have served as Members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, since the founding of the modern state – 81, in fact – including 12 at this very moment.
  • Muslims, Druze and Christians serve with distinction in Israel’s military, police, academia, media, and businesses — just last week, a brilliant Israeli Arab Muslim was named chairman of one of Israel’s largest banks.
  • Arab Christians and Muslims even serve as Justices on the Israeli Supreme Court.

Challenges remain, including our wrenching conflict with the Palestinians, for which we must continue to work and pray for peace and reconciliation.

Still, I am deeply encouraged by the state of religious freedom in Israel today.

THE STATE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE ARAB WORLD

I’m also pleased to report that something very hopeful is happening with regards to the safety and freedom of Christians in the Arab world.

Not long ago, Radical Islamists were beheading Christians in Libya, burning down churches in Egypt, waging genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, and vowing to exterminate Christianity through our region.

Today, the situation is vastly different.

  • Arab Muslim leaders have been valiantly fighting to defeat the forces of Radical Islamism.
  • Tens of millions of Muslims, Christians, Yazidis have been liberated from the forces of barbarism and savagery.
  • A growing number of Arab governments are waging an ideological and theological battle against Radical Islamists in their mosques, schools and on social media, and are training a new generation of clerics to preach moderation and mutual respect.
  • Some Arab Muslim kings and crown princes, presidents and prime ministers are calling for a new era of peaceful coexistence with Christians and Jews.
  • Some are even inviting Christians to meet with them to improve religious freedom and the quality of life for Christians in their countries.

Such trends are not receiving nearly enough attention, but they should for they are real and historic. 

Over the last two decades, I have traveled extensively across North Africa and the Middle East, from Morocco to Afghanistan, building friendships with Muslims and Christians.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to lead five Delegations of American Evangelical leaders to Sunni Arab countries — twice to Egypt, and once each to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – meeting with Christian leaders, but also with Muslim leaders at the highest-levels. 

In Amman, King Abdullah II — winner of last year’s Templeton Prize for his extraordinary history of promoting inter-faith dialogue and religious freedom — invited our Delegation to a wonderful working lunch at the palace.

In Cairo, we spent almost three hours in private talks with President El-Sisi — the first time an Egyptian President had ever met with an Evangelical Delegation.

In Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed spent two hours with our Delegation in his home — also the first time the leaders of the United Arab Emirates had ever invited Evangelicals for such meetings.

In Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also spent two full hours with us – and we were told this was the first time Evangelical leaders had been invited to meet with senior members of the Saudi Royal Family in 300 years.

In each country, we made it clear we were not coming for a photo op, but to build long-term strategic friendships. And in each country, our talks were friendly, even warm. We listened to each leader’s vision for reform, and his record of accomplishments. We asked candid questions about the challenges facing Christians in their countries, and about the plans they have for improving religious freedom for Christians and all religious minorities.

I wish I had time to share all that we learned, but I can report that we came away from each country encouraged.

  • In Saudi Arabia, no churches have been built – yet – but I pray this will change soon. Still, there are important signs of progress. Thousands of extremist preachers have been fired from the mosques. Christian foreign nationals are increasingly allowed to gather in private homes for worship and Bible study without government interference. And the Crown Prince is beginning to reach out to leaders of other faiths, not only meeting with Evangelicals, but with the Coptic Orthodox Pope in Cairo, the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, and Jewish leaders in New York.
  • In the United Arab Emirates, some 700 Christian churches now operate without fear of government persecution. New houses of worship are being built. And in February, the U.A.E. welcomed Pope Francis to lead a mass attended by 185,000 people and broadcast on live TV – the first time a Roman Catholic pontiff has ever stepped foot on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1,400 years of Islam.
  • In Jordan, King Abdullah II granted land along the Jordan River so 13 Christian denominations could build churches and baptize Christians. Through documents like “The Amman Message” and “A Common Word,” the King has taken the lead in promoting religious moderation, tolerance and respect for Christians. Indeed, I would argue that under the wise leadership of His Majesty, Jordan is the safest and freest country for Christians in the entire Arab world.
  • That said, perhaps the most dramatic progress is being made in Egypt. Under the leadership of President el-Sisi, every church destroyed during the Muslim Brotherhood’s reign of terror has been rebuilt. Some 6,500 new churches have applied for permission to operate legally and more than 1,000 have already been granted approval. The rest are operating freely while their applications are being reviewed, since the new church-building law states that the government has no right to close churches that have filed formal applications.

In January, President el-Sisi asked me to bring an Evangelical Delegation to attend the dedication of the gorgeous “Nativity of the Christ Cathedral” near Cairo. I was honored to do so, and then visited the cathedral again a few days later with my friend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

When was the last time that a devout Muslim president, leader of the world’s largest Arab country, built a church – the largest in the Middle East – and gave it as a gift to the Christians of his country on Christmas Eve?

My friends, this was a game-changing moment, sending a powerful message not only to all Egyptians, but to all Muslims, that Muslims and Christians really can live together in peace, despite our real and profound differences.

There is so much more I wish I could share with you. 

On Monday, I met with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister and Ambassador. I told them how encouraged I am by King Hamad’s commitment to tolerance and moderation, and by the landmark “Bahrain Declaration” His Majesty issued last year to further advance religious freedom. And I’m pleased to announce that my colleague, the Reverend Johnnie Moore, and I, have accepted Bahrain’s gracious invitation to bring an Evangelical Delegation to Manama this Fall.

I don’t want to paint a rosy, naïve picture. Enormous challenges remain for Christians and other religious minorities in the Arab world. Deep change must occur in education, culture and government. But, as a dual-U.S.-Israeli citizen, a Jewish Evangelical, building friendships with leaders throughout the Jewish and Muslim world, I see signs of hope. And I believe that when leaders of any country advance real reforms and make real progress – especially in the area of religious freedom – they should be publicly praised, even as we encourage them to do more.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Allow me to close with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, approved by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1948. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; [and] this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief.”

Perhaps the most uncomfortable element for some when it comes to discussing religious freedom is the right not only to choose one’s faith, but to change it. Yet we must not shy away from this topic, sensitive though it is. 

For having the freedom to decide what we believe about God – and the freedom to change our mind – is a sacred human right, granted to us by God Himself. Government’s job is not to grant rights, but to guard them. And no human right – none – is more important than the right to seek the truth about who God is, how we can know Him personally, and how our soul can spend eternity with Him.

This is the freedom my father found here in America. And this is the freedom that changed his life, and mine.

Thank you for all you do to defend this right. And for speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. God bless you – may your tribe increase.

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UPCOMING EVENTS:

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Best summer read: “Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission To Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power.” I loved it so much, I’ve read it twice.

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Jul 102019
 

ShadowStrike

(Jerusalem, Israel) — Rarely do I love a book as much as this one — so much so that I’ve actually read it twice in the past few weeks.

Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power, by Yaakov Katz — The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief, and a personal friend — is hands down the best non-fiction book of 2019, and a great summer read.

I invited him to breakfast earlier this week to tell him that and learn more about how he came to write it. Wish you could have joined us. It was a fascinating conversation.

Only one country in the world has ever destroyed a foreign nuclear program out of existence, Katz writes. That’s Israel, and she’s actually done it twice. The first time, Israel took out Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. The second time, Israel took out Syria’s sole reactor in 2007. But how exactly did Israel find the until-then secret Syrian facility? How did they destroy it? Why haven’t they talked about this incredible mission until now? And why didn’t Washington take the lead and destroy the illegal Syrian reactor (built with the help of North Korea) first?

Katz takes us where no other reporter has gone before. Exclusive interviews with all the key political, intelligence and military officials involved in the operation in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Washington. The book is written like a novel, a first-rate political thriller. But it’s all true. Get it. Read it twice. Then invite Katz onto your radio show or to speak at your next conference. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. 

Read the publisher’s description of the book, and order a copy on Amazon.

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UPCOMING EVENTS:

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On August 15, I’ll speak in Denver. “Forty Years After The Revolution In Iran: What Does The Future Hold For Iran, Israel & The Arab World?” Please register today and join us. I look forward to seeing you.

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Jul 082019
 

PERSIAN-FoxNews

(Jerusalem, Israel) — On Thursday evening, August 15th, I’ll be speaking in the Denver area on the rising prospect of a war with Iran, and my thriller, The Persian Gamble.

The occasion will be the annual fundraising event for Ministry Architecture, Inc. This is the ministry that my parents — Len and Mary Rosenberg — started some two decades ago. They provide architectural services for Evangelical Christian ministries operating in developing countries who need orphanages, training centers, medical missionary hospitals, and other facilities to show the love of Jesus.

Before I speak, my folks will share about the exciting work God is doing through this ministry. Then I will discuss the latest developments in Iran, Israel and the broader Middle East, and answer your questions — always my favorite part of the evening. I’ll be signing copies of my new novel, as well.

The event will take place at Calvary Chapel South Denver in Littleton, Colorado, from 7:00pm to 9:15pm. Doors will open at 6:15pm. Suggested minimum contribution is $30 per person and goes to support Ministry Architecture. This amount is 100% tax deductible. Registration  for the event is required, and you can register at www.ministryarchitecture.com.

Please register today by clicking here — I hope to see you there!

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The State Dept. has asked me to address their upcoming conference on advancing religious freedom. I’m honored to accept. Here are the details. Please pray for me. Thanks.

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Jul 062019
 

Ministerial-ReligiousFreedom-logo(Jerusalem, Israel) — Amidst a global wave of persecution against Christians, rising anti-Semitism and other attacks on people of faith, the State Department will hold an important conference in Washington on July 16-18 on how to advance religious freedom around the world. Some 1,000 foreign ministers, religious leaders, victims of religious persecution and NGO leaders from more than 100 countries are expected to attend.

Speakers will include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, along with experts from around the world.

As an author and the founder and chairman of The Joshua Fund, the non-profit organization Lynn and I founded in 2006 to strengthen and encourage followers of Jesus Christ in Israel and the Arab Muslim world, I’m deeply honored to have been asked to be one of the keynote speakers. 

The organizers have asked me to discuss the Delegations of Evangelical leaders that I have led in recent years to Sunni Muslim countries such as Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and the lessons my colleagues and I have learned in the process. I’m particularly interested in sharing how such “faith diplomacy” can open up the opportunity to pray with and for leaders at the highest possible levels of government, discuss with them our concerns regarding the persecution of Christians and Jews in the Middle East, as well as for advocate for expanded religious freedom in their countries. 

Would you pray for me as I draft my remarks, and for my interaction with leaders from  around the world? Would you also pray that we would specifically see major breakthroughs in the protection of, and freedom for, followers of Jesus Christ throughout the Muslim world, China, and other hot spots in the coming years? Thanks so much. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. 

Ministerial-ReligiousFreedom-groupshot2018

Here’s the State Department press release describing the purpose of the event:

Secretary Pompeo will host the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 16-18. The Ministerial will reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom for all and focus on concrete outcomes that produce durable, positive change. A broad range of stakeholders, including senior government representatives, international organization representatives, religious leaders, and civil society activists will convene to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for freedom of religion or belief. This year’s Ministerial seeks to further conversations from last year’s event and recent regional conferences. We expect participation of up to 1000 civil society and religious community representatives, representing every corner of the world.

Day One – Expanding the Conversation on Religious Freedom: On July 16, we will convene civil society, religious leaders and government officials to discuss the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, participants will discuss the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

Day Two – Deep Dive: On July 17, we will host three separate, concurrent discussions for the attendees of Day One to unpack ideas generated during Day One. These sessions will be hosted in three different venues within and in the immediate vicinity of the Harry S. Truman Building to allow for more focused discussions and a greater number of breakout sessions. We will invite topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials to discuss topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; and countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

Ministerial-ReligiousFreedom-Pompeo2018

Day Three – Government Action: On July 18, senior government and international organization representatives will participate in plenary sessions focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Invitations will be extended to likeminded governments that have a demonstrated record of advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or governments that have taken significant and meaningful steps to do so. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs will share their stories. Government delegations will be encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.

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Exclusive: “The Jerusalem Assassin,” my next political thriller, will release in March 2020. Here’s the scoop from “The Real Book Spy” website.

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Jul 022019
 

Jerusalem-Assassin

(Jerusalem, Israel) — Much thanks to Ryan Steck, editor of The Real Book Spy, the leading news site for all things related to spy thrillers and crime novels. He has published exclusive details of my next novel, including its title, cover art, plot description and publication date. Thought you might like to see it. Click here for the full article.

JOEL C. ROSENBERG’S NEXT THRILLER ANNOUNCED

On March 10, 2020, former U.S. Secret Service agent turned international operative Marcus Ryker is set to return in The Jerusalem Assassin, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg. 

Ryker, who was first introduced in Rosenberg’s 2018 thriller The Kremlin Conspiracy, also starred in this year’s The Persian Gamble—which saw him try to evade authorities after being shot down in Russia, while also searching for WMDs in hopes of preventing an attack that could lead to World War III. 

This time around, things aren’t getting any easier for Marcus, who’s tasked with tracking down whoever is killing American officials involved in crucial Middle East peace treaty negotiations—only to find a bigger, more dangerous conspiracy lurking in the shadows. Check out the official plot details and cover art below.

With the unexpected death of Russian President Aleksandr Luganov, and Iran’s efforts to acquire fully operational nuclear warheads successfully thwarted, American President Andrew Clarke decides the moment has come to unveil his comprehensive proposal to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, when a series of senior American officials involved in the peace process are assassinated, Clarke orders Marcus Ryker and a team of CIA operatives to hunt down those responsible and bring the killing spree to an end.

What Ryker uncovers is a chilling plot to kill the American president himself, but at first, it’s unclear who is the driving force behind the plot. Is it the Russians, seeking payback for the assassination of Luganov? Is it the Iranians, in retaliation for the American operation to keep Tehran from acquiring nukes? Or is it another conspirator altogether, someone plotting to strike a blow against American hegemony in the Middle East and seize the leadership of the entire Sunni Muslim world?

By the time Ryker and his team fully understand the plot and who’s behind it, they find they have less than 96 hours to disrupt a terrible evil that has been set in motion.

 

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Summer tensions spiking: Is Iran trying to provoke the US into war? Here are the latest Iranian moves & US counter-moves.

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Jun 232019
 

AircraftCarrier-AbrahamLincoln

(Jerusalem, Israel) — Do the mullahs and ayatollahs in Iran want a war with the U.S.?

Or do they believe the current American President is likely to follow the way of most  presidents for the last several decades and back down in the face of Iranian aggression?

I wish the mounting tensions were nothing more than the fiction of my latest thriller, The Persian Gamble. But the situation in real-life is actually becoming very serious.

Consider the latest Iranian moves, and U.S. counter-moves.

In response, the U.S. is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran:

Some commentators have been sharply critical of President Trump for not launching military strikes on Iran in recent days. I see it differently. As I Tweeted over the weekend, “I have not problem with President Trump showing some restraint. No one can say this President isn’t being tough on Iran. The key is for Trump and his national security team to continue ratchet up the pressure on Iran and run their strategy on their own timetable, not Iran’s.” 

In a follow-up Tweet, I noted, “The President and his national security team are doing a good job bringing maximum pressure on the ayatollahs of Iran and bringing U.S. allies along step-by-step. If your overall policy is right, it’s not weakness to show patience and not be trigger happy.”

The current White House goal: persuade the Iranian regime to give up its nuclear program, its long-range missile program, and its support for terrorism in the Middle East and around the world. And persuading European allies to join the U.S. in scrapping the nuclear deal and imposing crippling economic sanctions on Iran.

Ultimately, the goal should be to remove the tyrannical regime from power and replace it will moderates. Hopefully, economic pressure and diplomacy will suffice. But the U.S. and our allies must be ready for military action if necessary.

Let’s pray it is not necessary. 

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White House releases 40-page plan to create 1 million Palestinian jobs, cut poverty rate in half, and double Palestinian GDP. Here are the details.

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Jun 222019
 

 


PeaceToProsperity-plan

(Jerusalem, Israel) — “Days before the US-sponsored Bahrain conference [June 25-26], the White House released its proposal to boost the Palestinian economy by offering a $50 billion aid package that can only be implemented through an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” reported the Times of Israel.

“The 40-page plan which Senior Adviser Jared Kushner will push in Manama next week, rests on three initiatives, according to the document — to ‘unleash the economic potential’ of the Palestinians, ’empower the Palestinians to realize their ambitions,’ and ‘enhance Palestinian governance,'” the Times noted….

“The plan — formally dubbed ‘Peace To Prosperity’ — said that the economic package, if implemented, would double the Palestinians’ gross domestic product, create more than one million jobs in the territories, reduce Palestinian unemployment to single digits (it was 31 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank), and cut the poverty rate by 50%…..The $50 billion would be divided through $26 billion in loans, $13.5 billion in grants and $11 billion in private investment. The proposal does include a number of specific projects, including border crossing updates, power plant upgrades, infrastructure improvements to boost tourism, career counseling and job placement service, and re-building and modernizing Palestinian hospitals and health clinics.”

I’ll provide an analysis of the plan later.

For now, I would encourage you simply to read the plan for yourself.  

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Jan 252012
 

In a race, no time can be wasted. Runners pace themselves, knowing that winners only win by a fraction of a second. For Christians running life’s race, the clock is also relentless. Once gone, time cannot be reclaimed. The Bible teaches believers to “redeem the time, for the days are evil.” Time must be used wisely, because for each of us, one day time will be no more.