Today, June 5, is my 68th birthday. The Six Day War began on the day I turned 18. Exactly one year later on the first anniversary of the war Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Bobby Kennedy who was running for the Democratic nomination for president following Lyndon Johnson's declaration that he would not run for another term. The date of the murder was no coincidence, but a purposeful angry protest against American support for Israel.
Many have opined recently on what this 50th anniversary means. 50 years of inconclusive conflict; 50 years of continuing terrorist attacks; 50 years of Israeli domination over the lives of millions of basically disenfranchised Palestinians all of which is altogether infuriating.
Abba Eban, Israel's distinguished foreign minister during the Six Day War, several years later declared that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." However accurate, in truth Israel too has not exploited opportunities to move toward a resolution of the conflict. I mean not to equate the two, but simply to claim that fault lies in both camps. It's not just a willingness to take chances for peace, but a willingness to take steps like suspending expansion of settlements that is difficult for many of us committed Israel's survival to understand. To listen to the pronouncements of the right element in Israel's current governing coalition, is to admit that many of those in power in Israel are not interested in a solution to the conflict, at least one that would allow the Palestinians to be master over their own destiny.
As a Zionist I can certainly be frustrated by weak to non-existent Palestinian leadership. But as a Jew I am much more angered by what appears to be lousy and counter-productive poor Israeli diplomacy.
However Bret Stephens reminds us in an editorial in the June 3 New York Times the view from Israel. I find his words quite moving, but at the same time, it does not recognize the situation from the other side. Despite overstatements and some inaccuracies, I think it worthwhile to read Stephens' piece. One of the pitfalls of reviewing history is choosing where to begin, in this case 1967. The story may sound quite different if you begin in 1947 or some other starting point. In the future I will present viewpoints different from those below:
Six Days, 50 Years of War
"In June 1967 Arab leaders declared their intention to annihilate the Jewish state, and the Jews decided they wouldn't sit still for it. For the crime of self-preservation, Israel remains a nation unforgiven.
"Unforgiven, Israel's milder critics say, because the Six-Day War, even if justified at the time, does not justify 50 years of occupation. They argue, also, that Israel can rely on its own strength as well as international guarantees to take risks for peace.
"This is a historic nonsense.
"On June 4, 1967, the day before the war, Israel faced the fact that United Nations peacekeepers in Sinai, intended as a buffer with Egypt, had been withdrawn at Cairo's insistence; that France, hitherto Israel's ally, had imposed an arms embargo on it; and that Lyndon Johnson had failed to deliver on previous American assurances to break any Egyptian blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat.
"On June 5, the first day of the war, the Israeli government used three separate diplomatic channels to warn Jordan--then occupying the West Bank--not to initiate hostilities. The Jordanians ignored the warning and opened fire with planes and artillery. Some 6,000 shells landed on the western side of Jerusalem alone.
"On June 19, 1967--nine days after the end of the war--the Israeli cabinet decided it would offer the return of territories conquered from Egypt ad Syria in exchange for peace, security and recognition. The Arab League categorically rejected peace with Israel at its summit in Khartoum later that year.
"In 1973 Egypt and Syria unleashed a devastating surprise attack on Israel, puncturing the myth of Israeli invulnerability.
"It took a decade after 1967 for the Egyptian government of Anwar Sadat finally to accept Israel's legitimacy. When he did he recovered every inch of Sinai--from Menachem Begin, Israel's right wing prime minister. Syria remains unreconciled.
"It took another decade for Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization to recognize Israel and formally forswear terrorism. But its pledges were insincere. Only after the Soviet Union's collapse and Arafat's disastrous support for Sadam Hussein in the gulf war did the P.L.O. finally seem to get serious. It led to the Oslo Accords of 1993 and further Israeli withdrawals.
"In 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered Arafat a state. He rejected it. 'I reject that in 2000 he missed the opportunity to bring that nation'--Palestine--'into being,' was Bill Clinton's bitter verdict on the summit's outcome. Within two years Arafat was calling on a million 'martyrs' to march on Jerusalem.
"In 2005, another right-wing Israeli government removed its soldiers, settlers and settlements from the Gaza Strip. Two years later Hamas seized control of the territory and used it to start three wars in seven years.
"In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered a Palestinian state offered a Palestinian state in Gaza and 93 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinians rejected the proposal out of hand.
"This is a truncated history. Israel is not a nation of saints and has made its mistakes. The most serious of those is proliferation of West Bank settlements beyond those in historically recognized blocs.
"But before we fall prey to the lazy trope of "50 years of occupation,' inevitably used to indict Israel, let's note the following:
"There would have been no occupation, and no settlements, if Egypt and its allies hadn't recklessly provoked a war. Or if the 'international community' hadn't fecklessly abandoned Israel in its desperate hours. Or if Jordan hadn't foolishly ignored Israel's warnings to stay out of it. Or if the Arab League hadn't arrogantly rejected the possibility of peace.
"A Palestinian state would also most likely exist if Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas--now in the 13th year of his elected four year term--hadn't rejected it again nine years ago, and if Gazans hadn't turned there territory into a terrifying model of Palestinian statehood and f the United Nations didn't treat Hamas's attacks on Israel as a nuisance but Israel's self-defense as a crime against humanity.
"The cover of a recent issue of The Economist purports to answer the question 'Why Israel Needs a Palestinian State.' The argument isn't wrong. It just isn't wise.
"Israel needs a Palestinian state to safeguard its democratic future--in the long term. But the character of such a state matters at least as much as its mere existence. The Middle East doesn't need another failed in its midst. Israel doesn't need another Hamastan on its border. Palestinian in the West Bank don't need it over their heads.
"In 1967 Israel was forced into a war against enemies who then begrudged it the peace. Egypt, at least, found in Sadat. The drama of the Six-Day War will close when Palestinians find theirs."