The myths of 1967 and today’s realities (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By GERALD M. STEINBERG 06/06/12)
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The 1967 Six Day War was the result of the renewed Arab effort
to “wipe Israel off the map” – a renewal of the 1948 war that ended
in a temporary cease-fire, with no interest among most Arab leaders
in a long-term peace agreement with Israel. This is the reason that
there were never any pre-1967 borders between Israel and the west
bank of the Jordan River – one of many myths that distort the
international perception of the conflict.
Another myth is the belief that in this war, Israel occupied
the “Palestinian east Jerusalem and the West Bank.” In fact, this
territory had been occupied by Jordan in the 1948 war, and from these
positions, Israel was repeatedly attacked. Sacred and historic Jewish
Jerusalem was systematically closed off and desecrated during this
period – and in 1967, the Jewish presence was restored. And while the
Israeli government adopted a policy of trading land for a long-
awaited peace, the Arab League, meeting in Khartoum, slammed the door
in the face of any negotiations or agreements, forever. This was the
unplanned and impromptu beginning of settlements, built on the
foundation of Arab rejectionism.
But that was then, and now, 45 years later, the myths are firmly
entrenched in university campuses around the world (not exactly seats
of knowledge on the Middle East), among foreign journalists,
diplomats, political leaders and even many Israelis.
Notwithstanding the Oslo agreements, which created a semi-autonomous
Palestinian Authority, with a semi-sovereign government, the
population of about 1.5 million living in the West Bank (Judea and
Samaria in the both the Bible and the British mandate) is generally
seen as living under Israeli occupation, a modern form of colonialism.
In some ways, the victory of 1967 and the stalemate that followed
became a trap for Israel, as the Palestinians have long realized.
Beyond falsely appropriating the term “apartheid,” and campaigns for
BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions), the occupation and
unsettled legal status of these territories is a major drain on
Israel’s limited resources.
In addition to defending against mass terror, deadly missiles and
lethal attacks on the roads, there is a disturbing degree of
lawlessness and anarchy among a small percentage of Jews who have set
up outposts in these areas.
In 1977, prime minister Menachem Begin, a committed democrat who also
strongly affirmed the Jewish right to live in any part of the
historical homeland, rejected calls for annexation. He understood
that Israel could not include this territory without granting the
Arab population full democratic rights, which would jeopardize the
Jewish cultural, political and societal framework of the country.
This fundamental reality has not changed.
Since then, Israeli efforts to extricate itself from this trap have
failed. Begin’s autonomy plan for the “Arab residents of the Land of
Israel” – developed in the context of the peace negotiations with
Egypt – which was meant to counter Jimmy Carter’s pressure to create
a Palestinian homeland to be led by Arafat and the PLO, went nowhere.
Later, the façade of peace presented in the Oslo process ended in
mass terror, and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, including of
all Israeli military forces, also did not end well. Each failure
increased the degree to which the accidental framework created by the
1967 war was being set in concrete.
The 2003 Sharon-Bush understandings could have resulted in a
fundamental change, with American recognition of the permanence of
Israeli “consensus settlement blocs” along the 1949-1967 “Green
Line,” in exchange for Israeli limitations elsewhere. But then the
Obama administration withdrew the US endorsement, in what turned out
be a colossal error.
As a result, the post-1967 status quo continues, without a conscious
and carefully weighed examination of the costs and benefits to Israel
of permanent occupation, in the absence of defined borders or an
acceptable system of law and democracy. At the same time, the fringe
ideologues on the Right and Left have pressed their mythologies.
These myths include voluntary or forced transfer of millions of
Palestinians, and, on the other pole of the political spectrum,
naďve “instant peace” based on return to the pre-1967 lines, without
any guarantees to prevent future missile attacks and mass terror.
Forty-five years after the 1967 war, we desperately need a coherent
policy, whether based on the negotiation of defensible borders (an
unlikely option, given the Palestinian leadership), an interim
agreement that moves in this direction, or a resumption of the
process of setting our borders unilaterally.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the other 93 members of the
coalition government have the responsibility to formulate an overall
policy, rather than continuing to lurch from crisis to crisis.
None of these options are ideal, but doing nothing and letting others
impose their distortions and interests on Israel is certainly the
worst possible option.
Reliance on post-1967 myths is no way to determine the fate of our
nation. The longer we wait, the greater the difficulty and the higher
The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University
and president of NGO Monitor. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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