Economist: Israel's wasted victory





ON THE seventh day Jews everywhere celebrated Israel's deliverance from danger. But 40 years after that tumultuous June of 1967, the six-day war has come to look like one of history's pyrrhic victories. That is not to say that the war was unnecessary. Israel struck after Egypt's President Nasser sent his army into the Sinai peninsula, evicted United Nations peacekeeping forces and blockaded Israeli shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel's victory opened the waterway and smashed its enemies' encircling armies, averting what many Israelis sincerely expected to be a second Holocaust. And yet, in the long run, the war turned into a calamity for the Jewish state no less than for its neighbours.

Part of the trouble was the completeness of the triumph. Its speed and scope led many Israelis to see a divine hand in their victory. This changed Israel itself, giving birth to an irredentist religious-nationalist movement intent on permanent colonisation of the occupied lands (see article). After six days Israel had conquered not just Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights but also the old city of Jerusalem and the West Bank—the biblical Judea and Samaria where Judaism began. In theory, these lands might have been traded back for the peace the Arabs had withheld since Israel's founding. That is what the UN Security Council proposed in Resolution 242. But Israelis were intoxicated by victory and the Arabs paralysed by humiliation. The Arabs did not phone to sue for peace and Israel did not mind not hearing from them. Instead, it embarked on its hubristic folly of annexing the Arab half of Jerusalem and—in defiance of law, demography and common sense—planting Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories to secure a Greater Israel.

The six-day war changed the Palestinians too. They had been scattered by the fighting that accompanied Israel's founding in 1948. Some fled beyond Palestine; others became citizens of the Jewish state or lived under Egypt in Gaza and Jordan in the West Bank. The 1967 war reunited them under Israeli control and so sharpened their own thwarted hunger for statehood. When, decades later, Egypt and Jordan did make peace with Israel, the Palestinians did not recover Gaza and the West Bank. This has left some 4m Palestinians desperate for independence but in a confined land choked by Jewish settlements—along with the fences, checkpoints and all the hardships and indignities of military occupation. Ariel Sharon, it is true, dragged Israel out of the Gaza Strip two years ago. But so what? The Palestinians will not consider peace unless they get the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem too. And Hamas, the Islamists who now run what passes for a Palestinian government, says it will not make a permanent peace even then....



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