Sunday, June 10, 2007

Six Days that Shook-and are still Shaking-the World, Israel, & the Middle East

By David Brumer & David Shayne

David Shayne lived in Israel for six years, where he served in theIsrael Defense Forces and received his B.A. in Political Science from Tel Aviv University. David received his JD from the University of Oregon in 1989. Since then, he has lived in Seattle and is a practicing attorney.

Before dawn on June 5, 1967, Israeli pilots scrambled into their waiting aircraft and destroyed the Egyptian air force in less than 4 hours. Thus began the fighting stage of the "Six-Day War". The opening salvos of that war actually started a few weeks earlier, when Egypt expelled the UN from the demilitarized Sinai peninsula, massed its army along Israel's border and blockaded Israel's southern port at Eilat. These acts were accompanied by bellicose promises to bring about Israel's total annihilation. After Israel's desperate diplomatic efforts to force Egypt (and its allies,Syria and Jordan) to stand down failed, it had no choice but meet the Arab threat head on. Six days after the fighting started, Israeli forces had routed four Arab armies (Iraq had joined the Arab side even though it has no border with Israel) and occupied Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, including the eastern section of Jerusalem, and Syria's Golan Heights.

On the 40th Anniversary of those cataclysmic six days that changed the face of the Middle East-and arguably world politics-irrevocably, it is appropriate that we examine the far reaching consequences of that short week back in early June of 1967. Of particular relevance is how and why the conflict persists to this today, albeit with different players, and how Israel's victory resulted in an occupation that no one wants to see continued.

After the UN brokered a cease fire, the Israeli Government found itself facing an enormous challenge; one that it had not anticipated even one week earlier: What to do with these new territories under its control? While the Golan and Sinai were sparsely populated, Gaza and the West Bank contained a population of approximately one million Arabs who were opposed to Israel's very existence, and certainly did not welcome Israel's sudden emergence as their new rulers.

Where Jerusalem was concerned, Israel did not hesitate in extending full sovereignty over the entire city, offering its Arab residents full Israeli citizenship and removing the military barriers that had blighted the city for 19 years. But Israel did not take any precipitous actions with the remaining territories under its control. Israel faced four basic choices regarding what it could do with those captured territories:

A. Annex the territories, and extend full Israeli citizenship to its Arab residents.
B. Annex, the territories and expel the Arabs.
C. Unilaterally withdraw from all or parts of the territories without demanding any concessions.
D. Retain the territories as a bargaining chip, and place the civilian
population under military occupation, with the hope and expectation that the territories would eventually be returned to Arab sovereignty in exchange for full peace and secure borders.

Option one was impractical without some level of acceptance by the Arab residents which clearly was not forthcoming Option two was immoral, probably illegal, and likely to engender further conflict. Option three, return to the boundaries that Israel's Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, dubbed "Auschwitz borders" would simply be an invitation extended on silver platter to the Arab side to try to destroy Israel yet again. So Israel chose option four, a decision further reinforced by the UN Security Council. The latter exacted resolution 242, which called upon Israel to return some of the captured territory, but only if and when the Arab side would agree to make full peace with Israel first, and recognize its rightful place in the Middle East.

Despite the cautious approach of its government, Israel underwent profound changes, both in its internal politics and society, as well as in its external relations. One major benefit that accrued to the Jewish State was recognition by the United States that Israel was now a regional superpower and as such, a powerful and strategic ally of America in the Cold War. This new relationship would prove to be of vital importance to both nations. Of immeasurable significance too was the reclamation by Israel of ancestral, biblical lands of great historical importance to the Jewish people. Yet while those heady times may have intoxicated many, the Israeli government and its leaders made more sober assessments, and held back the nascent movement to extend a Jewish presence, if not sovereignty, in the occupied territories while waiting for the Arab side to come to the table and negotiate a peaceful resolution. However, the Khartoum Arab Summit meeting in late summer of 1967 dispelled any further hopes that such a resolution would be forthcoming. On September 1st came the famous "3 Nos" of Khartoum; No to Peace, No to Recognition of Israel, and No to negotiations.

With Israel’s stunning victory on the battlefield, a new Arab nationalist idiom emerged, that of Palestinian nationalism. After 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict began to morph into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This enormous paradigm shift went largely unnoticed at first, yet the ramifications have been profound, up until this day. While the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) had been created in 1964 as a largely Egyptian organization, by 1969 it comprised most of the new Palestinian groups, including Al Fatah, and Yasser Arafat became its leader. Unquestionably, The Six Day War had a powerful, galvanizing effect on an emerging new Palestinian national identity and its attendant militant groups. These groups embraced an extreme anti-Israel policy that paralleled the "3 Nos", and engaged in a vicious campaign of terrorist attacks against unarmed civilians, both inside and outside of Israel. Faced with such an unequivocal rejection, Israel's stance towards the territories began to change, as a result of the deepening rift inside the Israeli body politic, as more and more Israelis supported what became known as the "settler movement." Thus, Israeli policy now wavered between option 1 and 4, between maintaining a military occupation and a creeping annexation.

Meanwhile, the Arab States continued their militaristic anti-Israel policies, launching a successful surprise invasion that nearly defeated Israel in 1973. The "Yom Kippur" war, as it is popularly known, led to two big changes that occurred in 1977: 1) a new, "pro-settlement" Prime Minister came to power in Israel, Menachem Begin and 2) Egypt's President, Anwar Sadat, met with him in Jerusalem, setting in motion the first "peace process that culminated in full peace between Egypt and Israel and a return of the Sinai to Egypt.
But, even as the Arab States slowly began to follow Egypt's lead and scale back their enmity towards Israel, Palestinian hostility and violence increased, exacerbating tensions in the territories. In 1987. these tensions exploded in a mass outbreak of rioting and other violence known as the "Intifada."
For various reasons, the PLO lost much of its political control over the territories. New, radical fundamentalist organizations emerged, Hamas being the largest, that vied with the PLO. Along with other factors, this led to the PLO seeking a sort of rapprochement with Israel that led to the Oslo Accords, creating a framework for mutual recognition between the PLO and the State of Israel.
For a while, the Oslo Years, between 1993-2000, seemed to offer new hope and possibilities for compromise and reconciliation between the two peoples. While many Israelis were against those accords and saw the relinquishment of most of the territories as an abdication of responsibility for the ancestral lands vouchsafed to the Jewish people, at least a slim majority of Israelis were willing to make that painful sacrifice for peace with the Palestinians. Now, Israel formally acknowledged that the Palestinians did exist as a people too, with legitimate rights of self-determination.

Those hopes and dreams were shattered by the Second Intifada , which erupted after Arafat rejected a concrete Israeli offer to establish a fully independent Palestinian State in most of the occupied territories. Israelis became largely disabused of the notion that if Palestinians were offered a reasonable land deal, including most of a contiguous West Bank, peaceful co-existence was a given. At the same time, 3-4 million Palestinians still had to be contended with, and continued notions of a “Greater Israel” could only be realized at the expense of Israel being both a Jewish and a democratic state. Even Ariel Sharon, an architect of the settlement enterprise said in 2004 that Israel could no longer control the lives of millions of Palestinians, and that the dream of a “Greater Israel” was no longer a viable option. As understandable and even inevitable as it may initially have been, the occupation proved to be a disaster for all sides.

By withdrawing from Gaza unilaterally in 2005, Sharon started what appeared to be the beginning of an inevitable Israeli retreat from the territories. The new political centrist party he created, Kadima, was built on the platform of further withdrawals from the West Bank, either
with Palestinian/Arab agreement, or then unilaterally again if necessary. The message was clear: the occupation was no longer tenable.

Israel is now, and since 1993, has been moving away from Option four and is adopting policies based on options one and three combined, that is unilaterally establishing its permanent borders.
The Palestinians are the primary reason the occupation has lasted this long. Ironically, it is their actions that perpetuate the occupation, while the occupiers are desperate to see it come to an end. Palestinian behavior in the post-Camp David era has proven to be the opposite of state-building. Certainly, the current Hamas-led government rendered a viable Palestinian State unfeasible any time soon. And it is no secret that many in the Palestinian and larger Arab world see their best hopes in dragging their feet in bloody conflict until the demographics necessitate a bi-national or one-state solution, code for the end of a democratic, Jewish State.

As the 5th decade following the 6-day war begins, both the Israelis and the Palestinians face enormous challenges. What choices each people make today will affect generations to come. Israel remains committed to seeking a peaceful solution to this conflict, and ending this benighted occupation once and for all. But Israel cannot make peace by itself. Palestinian leaders must change their policies, or the Palestinians must change their leaders to bring about an end to the conflict. Until such time, Israel must of necessity stay ever vigilant, yet open to substantive proposals that can bring us closer to that elusive peace.

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