Wednesday, June 06, 2007

1967: The price of victory

It was Israel's stunning success in the 1967 war that led to many of the Middle East's problems today.

Martin Woollacott - Guardian CiF

The completeness of Israeli victory in 1967 shackled the peoples of the Middle East to a ball and chain which has ever since crippled their development. The shackle was Israeli military dominance, the chain was the unwavering alliance between Israel and America, the ball was the ever more oppressive and onerous occupation of Palestinian lands.

The character of the regimes in both the Arab states and Israel, the policies of their governments, and the psychological state of their citizens have all been shaped, or distorted, by the consequences of the Six Day War.

At the moment of victory, it now seems odd to recall, the opposite seemed to be the case. The Israelis, excitedly canvassing the opportunities for peace with Egypt and Syria, and exploring options for the political future of the West Bank which even included the establishment of a Palestinian state, saw a new beginning.

The Americans, not then as committed to near-automatic support of Israeli decisions as they later became, also thought there was an opportunity for a permanent regional settlement.

Even the Arab leaders, although initially stunned and angry, were privately ready to think along the same lines. Nasser, the Egyptian president, quickly indicated that there were possibilities, although he wanted them to be realised under international auspices. The Khartoum Summit's famous three negatives - No to peace, No to negotiations, No to recognition of Israel - represented in fact a partial success for Arab moderates. As King Hussein of Jordan was later to explain, they were intended to leave room for the creation of a state of peace, but not a treaty, for dealings with Israel through a third party, but not face to face, and for acceptance rather than formal recognition of Israel. The hard fact of Israeli military supremacy made Arab states ready for peace, even though they wanted it to appear to be imposed.

Yet this apparent room for manoeuvre was gone, if it had ever really existed, in some instances within days of the first cabinet discussions of peace proposals. The Israelis at first thought there would be superpower intervention and began by thinking they would just keep East Jerusalem. Then, as it became clear there would be no superpower fiat and as the Arabs failed to respond to their proposals, they added the Golan, then the West Bank, then Sinai. Not too long afterwards, the first settlers were headed for Hebron. The Arab lack of response to the peace feelers was one cause, but the main one was that victory went to Israel's head, as well as opening up the ideological divisions in Israeli society.

There was no plan, the pragmatists lost the arguments, romantics and extremists set the pace, and soon Israel had a prime minister, Golda Meir, who had no interest whatever in returning any territory to the Arabs and who denied the existence of a Palestinian people. At the same time, the American conviction that Israel was a strategic asset in the Cold War hardened. Israel now had a reliable great power protector which would in any conflict help it to win or at the very least prevent it from losing, and one which would never, as it turned out, exert enough pressure to undo the expansion it contemplated or strip it of the nuclear weapons it was developing.

The 1967 victory thus led, by way of two further conflicts, to an end to the possibility of general war between Israel and the Arab states. In the War of Attrition, back and forth across the Suez Canal, Egypt showed there was a price to be paid for continued occupation of its territory. In the 1973 war, Anwar Sadat tried to bring Israel, and the United States, to their senses. But his success was only partial.

In 1979, peace between Egypt and Israel removed the biggest and strongest Arab country from any possible military line-up against Israel and meant, in effect there would not be another inter-state war. The Iran-Iraq war, together with the Osirak raid, took another contender, Iraq, out of the picture. King Hussein, always the closest Arab leader to Israel, had made up privately with the Israelis soon after 1967. Syria, alone among the front line states, remained hostile, yet that hostility would have almost certainly ended if Israel had been ready to return the whole of the Golan.

Israel's security, as far as inter-state war was concerned, was thus absolutely assured, without having to give up, apart from Sinai, any of the territories it had seized. It could, it seemed, indulge its fantasies, let every political tendency in the land, however harebrained, have its way, and carry on as if it could have both peace and territory.

Yet the 1967 victory had greatly reinforced two processes which came to bulk larger and larger - Palestinian resistance, and the radicalisation of Arab societies, both, as the years went by, acquiring a more and more Islamist character. Israeli dominance was the obvious cause of the first, but only one of the causes of the latter. Secular Arab governments disappointed their peoples in many other ways, yet the failure to make Israel return what it had taken in 1967 was an important element in the disillusion and disorientation of their citizens.

Israel set out to achieve as complete a victory over these new, non-state enemies and their protectors as it had over Arab states in 1967. But the military efforts, in Lebanon and in the occupied territories, brought no such victory. Hesitantly they began to consider concessions, but they subverted their own diplomacy, and that of others, by their constant failure to deliver, a failure which turned the peace process into a travesty.

Everything that happens cannot spring from one event. Yet it is permissible to wonder what might have happened in the Middle East if the 1967 war had ended in a more messy way, leaving all the participants at some disadvantage. America might not have jumped to the conclusion that Israel was a uniquely vital ally. Arab governments might have been freed of a burden and a shame which has helped undermine them. And Israel might have realised that no state, and particularly one in her situation, can have everything it wants.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

So, Gert: would it have been better if Israel had lost the war in '67? Do you think the world would be better off if Israel ceased to exist then as it may well in the near future?

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Gert said...


I very much resent that remark. You know I don't feel that way at all and that that is not the tenet of this piece either. You're in Manichean mode again.

The argument of this piece is that the continued occupation and colonization of the West Bank is bad for peace in the ME. Just about anybody, including the UN, agrees on that.

With wishing Israel had lost the 1967 war this has nothing to do. Learn to read...

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

But Gert: this piece(not you) makes it sound like the author would have preferred Israel's defeat, after all, what were we supposed to do with the West Bank once we freed it from Jordanian occupation. You see, we didn't "occupy" anything. That land should have been ours had the British not reniged on the Belfour Declaration. It should have been ours along with Transjordan or modern day Jordan.

But as history would have it we got screwed royally(again). Now that we've liberated Judea and Samaria you'd like nothing more than for us to give it to people who want nothing less than the genocide of the Jewish people. It may sound Machiavelean to you, but fact remains fact. The Palestinians, for the most part, would love to kill us off one by one.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Your whole mentality on this issue is one of "the Palestinians don't exist", hence your ultra-nationalistic "liberation" fairytale.

Re-read Balfour: no one screwed you. The Territories were supposed to remain Arab.

Your narrative skips parts that are inconvenient for your views but clashes with almost every Israeli historian or historiographer's view. I guess they're all Marxists (lol).

Nationalism blinds you, as it does so many, not in the least the extremist factions on the Palestinian side...

At 5:59 AM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Gert: I am in fact an ultra-nationalist but I don't in any way hold opposing views to be "Marxist" or "fanatical" or anything of that sort. As you know, I'm well-accustomed and willing to agree to disagree as the Yanks like to say;) I've had plenty of disagreements with you in the past and will continue doing so but I'll never accuse you of being a Marxist. Why would I when I know you're not?

As for the "Palestinians", the name is a hoax that was so conveniently given to them by them in order to give themselves recognition and legitimiz their terrorist aspirations following the War for Independence. And yes, I stick by what I said. Israel liberated not "occupied" the West Bank and Aza. Now it's time to resettle these lands.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Gert said...

In your dreams...

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

"If you will it it is no dream!"

Theodre Hertzl

At 12:36 AM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Gert, my man: you've been politically Meme'd by...well you know who. Do I really have to tell you...You know that one loony dude from Israel...well you know;)

Check it out. I think you'll like it.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Theodore Herzl's dream was different from yours: at one point it involved Argentina, not Palestine (from his diaries).

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

gert: that wasn't my point. My point was that as Hertzl so eloquently stated, if we try hard enough our dreams will become reality, even if not during our lifetimes.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Gert said...

As a Flemish poet once wrote (my poor translation):

Between dreams and deeds,
are in the way obstacles and laws.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Eitan Ha'ahzari said...

Agreed, but both obstacles and laws can be overcome(especially when the laws are illogical and hypocritical as in Arabs can do this and that but the "evil, gun-toting" Jews can't.


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