Enduring Myths about the Six-Day War and Its Aftermath

Although Israel’s 1967 victory undeniably reshaped both it and the larger Middle East in fundamental ways, Aaron David Miller sees a tendency among Western observers to exaggerate and misconstrue the war’s effects. He identifies five such mistaken lessons: that 1967 was the most important of the Arab-Israeli wars, that there were missed opportunities for peace in its wake, that it was a catastrophe for the Palestinians, that it undermined the chances for peace, and that the time is now ripe for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. He writes:

[T]he notion that the proverbial six days of war created a figurative Seventh Day—a kind of dark shadow under which the Arab-Israeli conflict has played out, inexorably and depressingly, these many years—is too simplistic. . . .

On June 19, 1967, the Israeli cabinet secretly decided to exchange Sinai and the Golan for peace agreements with Egypt and Syria; but no consensus was reached on the West Bank, though the cabinet agreed to incorporate Gaza into Israel and to resettle refugees elsewhere in the region. . . . Meanwhile, the Arabs, reeling from defeat, were more focused on keeping their own houses in order and maintaining some measure of unity in the wake of their latest military humiliation. Even if the Israeli offer had been concretized, it would have faced impossible odds. Egypt’s [subsequent] launching of its war of attrition and the public hardening of Arabs’ attitudes seemed to make any serious process impossible. The Arabs’ three no’s at the Khartoum summit of August 1967—no peace; no negotiation; no recognition—seemed to sum up the impasse.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Six-Day War, War of Attrition

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank