Today, both Jews and Palestinians believe they are the intended inheritors of this "divine promise". The concept of the Promised Land is the central tenet of Zionism, whose discourse suggests that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees through which they inherit the right to re-establish their "national homeland", whilst the Islamic and Christian Palestinian discourse suggests that modern Palestinians descend from all the different peoples who have lived in the region including the ancient Israelites.
The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring [or seed] I will give this land."
Commentators have noted several problems with this promise and related ones:
It is to Abram's descendants that the land will (in the future tense) be given, not to Abram directly nor there and then. However, in Genesis 15:7 it is said: He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it." However, how this verse relates to the promises is a matter of controversy.
There is nothing in the promise to indicate God intended it be applied to Abraham’s physical descendants unconditionally, exclusively (to nobody but these descendants), exhaustively (to all of them) or in perpetuity.
Christian commentators draw attention to the formulation of the promise, avoiding the term "seeds" in plural (meaning many people), choosing instead "seed," meaning one person, who, they understand to be Jesus (and those united with him): "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”meaning one person, who is Christ." Galatians 3:16 Furthermore, they note that the expansion of the promise from singular to the plural is not based on genetic/physical association, but a spiritual/religious one: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28-29
Jewish commentators drawing on Rashi's comments to the first verse in the Bible, assert that no human collective ever has any a-priori claim to any piece of land on the planet, and that only God decides which group inhabits which land in any point in time. This interpretation contradicts the idea that the Jewish people have a claim to ownership rights on the physical land.
In Genesis 15:18-21 the boundary of the promised land is clarified in terms of the territory of various ancient peoples, as follows:
The verse is said to describe what are known as "borders of the Land" (Gevulot Ha-aretz). In Jewish tradition, these borders define the maximum extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob.
The promise was confirmed to Jacob at Genesis 28:13, though the borders are still vague and is in terms of "the land on which you are lying". Other geographical borders are given in Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea, the "Sea of the Philistines" i.e. the Mediterranean, and the "River," (the Euphrates).
See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.
It took a long time before the Israelites could subdue the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The furthest extent of the Land of Israel was achieved during the time of the united Kingdom of Israel under David. The actual land controlled by the Israelites has fluctuated considerably over time and at times the land has been under the control of various empires. However, under Jewish tradition, even when it is not in Jewish occupation, the land has not lost its status as the Promised Land.
Descendants of Abraham
Traditional Jewish interpretation, and that of most Christian commentators, define Abraham's descendants as Abraham's seed only through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, to the exclusion of Ishmael and Esau. This may however reflect an eisegesis or reconstruction of primary verses based on the later biblical emphasis of Jacob's descendants. The promises given to Abraham happened prior to the birth of Issac and were given to all his offspring signified through the rite of circumcision. Johann Friedrich Karl Keil is less clear, as he states that the covenant is through Isaac, but notes that Ishmael's descendants have held much of that land through time.
Mainstream Jewish tradition regards the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having been given to all Jews, including proselytes and in turn their descendants, with the traditional view being that a convert becomes a child of Abraham, as in the term "ben Avraham". The traditional Palestinian discourse suggests that Palestinians inherited the promise via their descent from all the different peoples who have lived in the region including the ancient Israelites.
^ ab"Throughout history a great diversity of peoples has moved into the region and made Palestine their homeland: Canaanites, Jebusites, Philistines from Crete, Anatolian and Lydian Greeks, Hebrews, Amorites, Edomites, Nabateans, Arameans, Romans, Arabs, and European crusaders, to name a few. Each of them appropriated different regions that overlapped in time and competed for sovereignty and land. Others, such as Ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Persians, Babylonians, and Mongols, were historical 'events' whose successive occupations were as ravaging as the effects of major earthquakes ... Like shooting stars, the various cultures shine for a brief moment before they fade out of official historical and cultural records of Palestine. The people, however, survive. In their customs and manners, fossils of these ancient civilizations survived until modernity—albeit modernity camouflaged under the veneer of Islam and Arabic culture." Ali Qleibo, Palestinian anthropologist
^ ab"(With reference to Palestinians in Ottoman times) Although proud of their Arab heritage and ancestry, the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial, including the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites before them. Acutely aware of the distinctiveness of Palestinian history, the Palestinians saw themselves as the heirs of its rich associations." Walid Khalidi, 1984, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876–1948. Institute for Palestine Studies
^ abSizer, Stephen (2007). Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
^Shashar, Michael (2002). Leibowitz - Heretic or Believer.
^Kol Torah, vol. 13, no. 9, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Nov 8, 2003