Leslie Susser: Was the Six-Day War a blessing or a curse for Israel's place in the Middle East and its long-term survival?





Was the Six-Day War a blessing or a curse for Israel's place in the Middle East and its long-term survival?

Forty years on, the jury is still out.

In the war's immediate aftermath, it seemed Israel's sweeping victory would guarantee the Jewish state's future and set the stage for a grand regional peace. But the war also unleashed powerful new forces that militated against a settlement of the core Israeli-Palestinian conflict and left simmering the overarching Israeli-Arab dispute.

Today the parameters of the struggle have shifted, but comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace remains as elusive as ever and threats to Israel's existence still give rise to concern.

In the new equation the Arab world is split. As Israel seeks accommodation with the moderates, radicals in the Palestinian and wider Islamist camps conspire to quickly abort peace efforts.

In June 1967, Israel emerged from six days of lightning strikes on three fronts a regional superpower that the Arab side no longer could realistically expect to destroy. The war also left Israel with large swathes of territory it could try to exchange for peace. Thus it seemed that the argument no longer would be about Israel's existence but over the terms of accommodation.

Israel's Cabinet met shortly after the war and agreed to return territory in exchange for peace. The Arab League thought differently, however, meeting in Khartoum for its famous summit of the "Three No's" -- no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no peace with Israel. Israel's offer to return conquered territory, before the occupation had been established and before there were any settlements, was rejected.

Still, "land for peace" quickly gained currency as the new international panacea. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed five months after the fighting stopped, reflected the new approach.

But that's not how things worked out.

The magnitude of Israel's victory rekindled dormant messianic notions among religious Zionists. Before 1967, Israelis felt stifled by the weight of surrounding, hostile Arab states, and in the run-up to the war many feared impending physical annihilation.

The fact that the victory was so decisive fueled speculation about divine intervention and the coming of the Messiah. Religious Zionists argued that returning parts of biblical Israel to the Arabs would delay the Messiah's coming.

These ideas gave rise to the religious settler movement, which advocated the settlement of "Greater Israel," especially in the West Bank.

The war also led to the rehabilitation of the secular Israeli right. Herut leader Menachem Begin – a virtual pariah during David Ben-Gurion's Labor-led administrations from 1948 to 1963 – had been included in Levi Eshkol's wartime national unity government. It was the first step on the path that Begin's Likud Party took to power in 1977 in alliance with the religious Zionist movement. Both were dedicated to the integrity of the entire land of Israel and opposed to Palestinian statehood.

Concurrently the war spurred a new, militant Palestinian nationalism determined to wrest control of Palestinian decision-making from Arab states like Egypt and Jordan and opposed to any recognition or accommodation with Israel.

Founded several years before the war, in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat embarked on a campaign of terror against Israel, advocating the establishment of a "secular democratic" state in Israel's stead. The twice-defeated Palestinians continued to demand control of Jerusalem and the "right" of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper. Accommodation between these powerful new forces of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism seemed impossible. ...

Forty years on, it seems, Israel remains saddled with the results of its great victory in 1967, unable either to swallow the territories or to reject them.



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