Golda's Missed Opportunities for Peace

Roundup
tags: Israel, the Six Day War



Ralph Seliger is a veteran editor, freelance writer, and blogger. He edited Israel Horizons from 2003 until 2011, when it was discontinued, and currently co-administers the blogs for Ameinu and The Third Narrative.

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s remarkable military victory in the Six Day War, June 5-10 of 1967, we note with a heavy heart that it also marks the beginning of Israel’s occupation over a non-Jewish population that neither welcomed nor accepts this situation.

Still, Israel’s triumph over numerically superior foes did not result in a stampede toward the negotiating table. The three noes that emerged from the Khartoum Arab League Summit of August 28-September 2, 1967 — no to negotiations, no to recognition, no to peace — despite the invitation of Levi Eshkol’s government to discuss a return of most territories captured during that war, has explained to most pro-Israel observers how this state of affairs began. But it’s not the entire story, not by a long shot.

The Israeli-British Oxford University historian Avi Shlaim argues in “The Iron Wall” (W.W. Norton, 2001, pp. 258-259) that Khartoum was not what it seemed to most Israelis:

"On the face of it these declarations [the “three noes”] showed no sign of readiness for compromise, . . . [yet] the conference was a victory for the Arab moderates who argued for trying to obtain the withdrawal of Israel’s forces by political rather than military means. Arab spokesmen interpreted the Khartoum declarations to mean no formal peace treaty, but not a rejection of a state of peace; no direct negotiations, but not a refusal to talk through third parties; and no de jure recognition of Israel, but acceptance of its existence as a state. 

". . . At Khartoum, [Egyptian President] Nasser advised, and indeed urged, King Hussein to explore the possibility of a peaceful settlement with Israel. This was, of course, not known in Israel at the time. As far as Israel was concerned, the Khartoum declarations closed every door and every window that might lead to a peace settlement."

If we take Prof. Shlaim’s interpretation seriously, this Arab expression of “moderation” was a colossal miscommunication — to say the least.

In his biography of King Hussein, “Lion of Jordan” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), Shlaim reports on the Jordanian monarch’s first direct meeting with an Israeli official, the diplomat Yaacov Herzog (uncle of the current Labor Party leader), as occurring in London in 1963. This was the beginning of a long and mostly cordial relationship, interrupted dramatically by Hussein’s ill-fated decision in 1967 to officially join the Egyptian-Syrian-Iraqi alliance and to place his army under the command of an Egyptian general.

Despite his sympathies for the King and a tendency to be sharply critical of Israel, Shlaim regards the Six Day War as defensive on Israel’s part, including with respect to East Jerusalem and the West Bank: “He made the mistake of his life. . . . Had King Hussein heeded Eshkol’s warning [not to attack], he would have kept the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank.” (“The Iron Wall,” p. 244.)

After Nasser had assured Hussein that the war was going well on the Egyptian front in its early hours — a complete fabrication — Jordan shelled Israel’s capital of West Jerusalem. One may recall that the famous Chagall windows at the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem were damaged in that attack, which also included an infantry incursion that captured Government House, the United Nations headquarters, in today’s Armon HaNatziv neighborhood. Within days, Hussein’s army and kingdom were shattered by the Israeli counteroffensive, which seized the entire West Bank of the Jordan….




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