The Six-Day War Didn’t Change Israel—At Least, Not in the Way the Israeli Left Claims It Did

At the war’s 50th anniversary, many in Israel and abroad have commented on how it transformed the country. For those on the left in particular, this was the moment when the Jewish state became “the occupier of another people” and—in this interpretation—inaugurated the era of Israel’s decline. Yoaz Hendel will have none of it:

Three wars shaped the state of Israel—the most important war was in 1948. The big “occupation” starts there. The Six-Day War only changed the borders, not the essence of the battle [between Israel and its Arab neighbors]. . . . Finally, in 1973, came the big victory of the Yom Kippur War (yes, I know that people usually look at this war from its starting points rather than through the great achievements of its ending). . . . These three wars turned Israel into a regional power with greater economic and military strength than any other country in the region. . . .

Whoever claims today that the Six-Day War changed us is talking out of wishful thinking, out of a childish dream in which we could have existed within the borders of small Israel and made peace with everyone around us. If only we had won and pulled out, according to this dream, everything would have been fine. The years before 1967 were painfully beautiful, [goes the refrain]. The most beautiful songs, the most beautiful outfits, the most beautiful girls, the most silent rabbis. . . .

And the best clichés. . . . [In fact,] Israel lived under the danger of extinction for nineteen years before the Six-Day War. Its laws were emergency laws. Its democracy was shaky. David Ben-Gurion, the man without whom we wouldn’t have a state, spied on opposition members. Israeli Arabs lived under tough military rule and Shin Bet supervision. The government Judaized the Negev and the Galilee without thinking twice. . . . The only restrictions on corruption were internal ethics and the values of the [Zionist] youth movements.

Our situation [now] is much better than in those nineteen years—not just from a security and economic perspective but also by the criteria of those who are lamenting [the supposed collapse of Israeli] democracy. Israel, contrary to their claims, is not marching toward a binational state; it is marching toward a separation from the Palestinians as much as it can. In Gaza, we have completely separated from them (we still pay for the electricity and water), and in Judea and Samaria there is a demilitarized semi-state with a political separation, but with no military separation.

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

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