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Forty Years After Israel’s Six-Day War of 1967, Soul-Searching Grows About Its Meaning

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2007

The fortieth anniversary of Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War has produced much soul-searching both within Israel and throughout the world.  
The New York Times (June 9, 2007) reports that, “As Israel marks 40 years after an extraordinary victory, there is far less exultation than questioning about the war’s impact on the country and grave doubts about the future. There is a debate about what kind of country Israel is, about the impact those 40 years of development, immigration, war, settlement and occupation have had on the dreams of those who chose to make their lives here. And there is a widespread feeling that both left and right are out of answers.”  
According to The Times, “The left says that Israel must reach out to the majority of Palestinians who want a two-state solution and that the right is too despairing about the possibility of reaching peace. The right, which remains somewhat more popular, believes that the left was seduced by the dream of normality in the 1990s, after the Oslo accord with the Palestinians, and that the siren song of peace and coexistence is softening the Israeli character.”  
Chuck Freilich, who was deputy national security adviser under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, argues that the 1967 war “convinced Arabs that Israel is here to stay, but it’s also become a cancer. Occupation is corrupting in the long run for any society, and the war also brought a religious messianism into Israeli life that really wasn’t there.”  
Tom Segev, an Israeli historian who has just published a book about the 1967 war, said: “For so many years we believed the occupation was temporary. But 40 years is a very long time. And now I don’t believe in peace any more. We can manage the conflict better, but I don’t think we can solve it.”  
Editorially, The Forward (April 22, 2007) stated that, “These 40 years mean that Israel has lived fully two-thirds of its existence as a military occupier of disputed territory, ruling over an unwilling population of millions of Palestinian Arabs who are not its citizens, who have no clear rights and who largely wish it ill ... Less obviously, the war marked a turning point in Israel‘s quest for peace with its neighbors. Before 1967, Israel sought nothing more than peace and recognition of its right to exist. Right after the war, realizing that it now had something with which to bargain, Israel announced its readiness to return captured territories in return for the long sought peace. Almost immediately, however, it qualified the offer. It annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem and began to create Israeli settlements in the holiest and most emotionally fraught spots on the West Bank ... Over the next 40 years, those holdings grew and with them the conditions and caveats of Israel’s intentions. In effect, Israel spent the first third of its existence seeking in vain nothing more than peace and recognition, and the second two-thirds of its existence hedging the offer.”  
Slowly, The Forward notes, there has been an “Arab drift toward accommodation ... Israel’s original post-1967 offer to return the captured territories in return for recognition and peace began to look like an attractive deal. But is the offer still on the table? Israelis look at the Arab side and see tottering regimes that could not keep their side of the deal as Islamic rage sweeps the streets. Arab leaders look at Israel and see a nation dug in, reluctant to part with the assets it holds and unwilling to face down the messianic radicals among it in return for a faintly remembered dream of peace. What hope, then? Only this: that the alternative is chaos that will consume all around it in a whirlwind of destruction, and that is no alternative at all. The Israeli government and people — battered, uncertain and embittered though they may be — must reach out to the weakened, uncertain, angry regimes around and begin to talk. They must talk and talk and talk until they come to terms. The age of grand dreams is long gone. The time for force is at an end. Now is the time for wisdom.”  
In an article, “Forty Years of Occupation” in The Nation (June 18, 2007), Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a columnist for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, writes that, “By the late 1980s, after two decades of occupation, Israeli control of the territories beyond the Green Line had become semi-permanent, differentiated from sovereign rule only vis-a-vis the Palestinian residents. As far as Israeli citizens and their range of interests were concerned, the annexation of the territories was a fait accompli. Defining the territories as occupied is, in fact, an anachronism that hides behind the portrayal of a temporary condition that will end ‘when peace comes,’ and is designed to avoid resolving immediate dilemmas ‘in the meantime.’ The term is a crutch for those who seek optimistic precedents, allowing them to believe that just as all occupations end, this one will too. This linguistic choice thereby contributes to the blurring and obfuscation of the reality in the territories, aiding the continuation of the status quo ... The term ‘de facto binational state’ is preferable to the occupier/occupied paradigm, because it describes the mutual dependence of both societies as well as the physical, economic, symbolic and cultural ties that cannot be served except at an intolerable cost.”  
In Benvenisti’s view, “Describing the situation as de facto binational is not prescriptive but descriptive, and it does not indicate parity between Israelis and Palestinians — on the contrary, it stresses the total dominance of the Jewish-Israeli nation, which controls a Palestinian nation that is fragmented both territorially and socially. No paradigm of military occupation can reflect the bantustans created in the occupied territories, which separates a free and flourishing population that enjoys a gross domestic product of $26,000 per capita from a dominated population that is unable to shape its own future and whose GDP is $1,500 per capita. No paradigm of military occupation can explain how half the occupied areas have essentially been annexed, leaving the occupied population with disconnected lands and no viable existence. Only a strategy of annexation and permanent rule can explain the vast settlement enterprise and the enormous investment in infrastructure, estimated at more than $10 billion.”  
Mr. Benvenisti concludes: “... a preliminary stage in dealing with this problem that will not disappear is to expunge outmoded code words from the dictionary and deal bravely with the reality created by forty years of Israeli control over the entirety of Israel/Palestine. This land has witnessed the emergence of a geography, an economy and demographic, and social processes that no longer enable a division into two separate sovereignties. The alternatives are simple and cruel: either one people controls the other, dooming them both to eternal violence, or else a way must be found to live in a partnership based on shared sovereignty.”

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