This is a book which ought to be read widely as we remember in June 2017 the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967. If we wonder why Israel shows no sign of being willing to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Avi Raz, an Israeli Jewish journalist and historian, has collected convincing evidence from the period of twenty-one months between June 1967 and February 1969 to show that the vast majority of Israeli leaders never had any intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories.
These are the main conclusions of the book together with quotations taken mainly from the Introduction and Conclusion:
‘Israel desired the land without its population.’
‘As early as 7 June, the third day of the Six Day War, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan told Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of the General Staff, that the aim was to empty the West Bank of its inhabitants. When the hostilities were over, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol coined a metaphor which adequately encapsulated the Israeli ambition. In the metaphor Israel’s territorial conquests were a “dowry” and the Arab population a “bride.” “The trouble is that the dowry is followed by a bride whom we don’t want.” Eshkol repeatedly said…
‘… Israel preferred land to peace and thus deliberately squandered a real opportunity for a settlement with its eastern neighbours. The Americans were not fooled by Israel’s foreign policy of deception. But despite possessing the necessary levers to exert influence on Israel, Washington did not use them. The United States provided uninterrupted support and arms to Israel.’
Israeli policy was pursued by deliberately refusing to formulate its peace terms, annexing Arab Jerusalem ‘under the pretence of “municipal unification”’ (knowing that is contravened international law), pursuing a policy of Judaizing Arab Jerusalem, and approving the building of new settlements – all with the intention of creating facts on the ground.
The motives for holding onto occupied territories
- ‘Messianic ardor’ after the ’67 conquests. ‘The Israeli public were overcome by the intoxication of national pride, military arrogance, and fantasies of the glory of messianic deliverance’ (Yeshayahu Leibowitz).
- ‘We said openly that the map will never again look as it did on 4 June 1967 … I am not exaggerating when I say that for us it [the prewar map] has something of the memory of Auschwitz (Abba Eban).
- The ‘demographic danger’ from Arabs eventually outnumbering Jews and Israel ceasing to be a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.
- Association with biblical Israel. ‘… the “historical association” with biblical Eretz Yisrael was a key Israeli concept. It meant that the Jews had the inalienable right to settle anywhere in the West Bank.’
- ‘we need the land’ (Eshkol)
‘What really mattered to the policy makers – motivate by either security, historical, religious, ideological or messianic considerations – was keeping as much occupied territory as possible with a little Arab population as possible under Israeli rule.’
‘Abba Eban argued that there was a limit to the amount of arsenic the human body could absorb, and stated “We are not allowed to place a time bomb in Israel.”’
Israel’s policies regarding the West Bank and Gaza were intended to encourage as many Palestinians as possible to leave and not allow refugees to return.
‘In September 1967 Foreign Minister Eban told Arthur Goldberg, US Ambassador to the United Nations, that Israel would like to have the territory of the Gaza Strip without the inhabitants but did not see how that could be achieved. Israel attempted nevertheless to empty the region of its people. From the very start of the occupation strenuous efforts were exerted by various branches of the Israeli government – the military, the Foreign Ministry, the Mossad, and others – to make the Gazans leave … The methods used ranged from making life in Gaza unbearable to an organized project designed to encourage emigration. The former included ruling with an iron fist and keeping the standard of living very low… “I still don’t know how to get rid of them [the Arabs of Gaza], Premier Eshkol lamented in October 1968.’
‘“We certainly hoped that [the West Bankers] would flee, as in 1948,” stated Maj. Gen. Uzi Narkiss, the commanding general of the Central Command. On 6 June, the second day of the war, Defence Minister Dayan instructed Chief of Staff Rabin to allow anyone wishing to depart the West Bank to do so. The next day, on hearing that many Tulkarm inhabitants were escaping from their town, Dayan expressed his satisfaction. He ordered the armor brigade operating in the area to slow down while keeping the roads open. Dayan believed that this would help lower the Arab population in the West Bank, which would in turn spare Israel difficult problems. The aim, he told Rabin on the morning of 7 June, was to empty the West Bank of its inhabitants.’
Israel’s approach to King Hussein was to force him to the negotiating table without revealing its own terms, to send diversionary messages, and to make offers which they knew he could not accept.
‘The historical evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Israeli leadership was in no doubt that the king desired an honourable peace settlement, that he was willing to negotiate with Israeli directly, and that he expected to hear the Israeli terms. Instead of reaching the long overdue and crucial decision on the West Bank, the Israelis deliberately opted to present Hussein with an unreasonable proposal. This was the Allon Plan, which envisaged the annexation of a strip of six to ten miles wide along the Jordan River, as well as the lion’s share of the West Bank’s southern region …’
‘This is not a learned analysis or a sophisticated interpretation but the naked truth about the Israeli foreign policy as articulated by Abba Eban – a self-proclaimed moderate. Eban explicitly recommended holding a “futile discussion” with the Jordanians “which should last weeks and months,” and a never-ending series of meetings with King Hussein in order to deceive US President Lyndon Johnson into thinking that direct contacts regarding a bilateral settlement were taking place in good faith. The purpose of this exercise was – again, by Eban’s own admission – to deflect international pressure and maintain thereby the territorial status quo … Israel’s policy makers never doubted the peaceful intentions of either Hussein or the West Bank leaders. Israel resorted to a deceitful foreign policy precisely because the government was convinced that the king of Jordan and the West Bankers meant what they said regarding an accommodation with Israel.’
By the summer of 1968 Israel had developed a plan to create an Arab civil administration in the West Bank devoid of power and run by local collaborators.
‘… the policy makers sought a docile Palestinian leadership that would serve Israel’s purposes. An Arab civil administration could have been a significant first step toward an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation, had the occupying power intended to allow the occupied genuine self-rule with able, honest people. But the civil administration the Israelis had in mind was a sham. Devoid of power and completely subjugated to the Military Government, its aims, according to Premier Eshkol, were threefold: first, to create a false impression that the government was negotiating a functional settlement with the West Bankers; second, to fend off international pressures and thereby gain Israel time; third, to apply pressure on Jordan to adopt a pliable approach.’
‘The Israeli search for Palestinian quislings was just one episode in what became a broader and complex effort to maintain the territorial status quo created by the military victory in the Six Day War. This effort, which involved King Hussein of Jordan as well as the West Bank political elite who were alike eager to reach a peaceful settlement with Israel, was mainly directed at the United States and amounted to a consistent policy of prevarication. Its aim was to mislead the Americans into thinking that Israel was seriously trying to revolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This is in a nutshell what the present book is about. Its narrative and conclusions are the result of years of painstaking research …’
Israel has always claimed that there was no one to talk to on the Palestinian side, (‘We are awaiting the Arabs’ phone call’ (Dayan)). There is plenty of evidence, however, that West Bank Palestinians and King Hussein did want a peaceful resolution of the conflict and made repeated approaches to Israel with a view to achieving peace. Israel was fully aware of the two main options: ‘the Palestinian option’ and ‘the Jordanian option.’
‘The two claimants to the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem – the West Bank Palestinians and King Hussein of Jordan – were ready and eager to resolve the conflict directly with Israel directly. Both communicated their peaceful desire from the start of the occupation. They presented Israel with two competing options for a settlement. The West Bankers embodied what became known in Israel as the “Palestinian Option,” while the Hashemite Kingdom was considered the “Jordanian option.” With the whole of Mandatory Palestine and more than half of the Palestinian people under its control, Israel was thus provided with a historic opportunity to defuse the Palestinian problem which lies at the heart of the decades-long Arab-Zionist conflict. However, they chose neither option.’
The Israeli response to these approaches from West Bankers and King Hussein was a combination of evasion, prevarication, deception and defiance. Israel knew that the two options (‘the Palestinian option’ and ‘the Jordanian option’) were mutually exclusive and wanted neither. But its exploration of these two options at different times was part of ‘a calculated double game.’
‘… the Eshkol government reacted evasively to Hussein’s peace overtures, banned political organization in the occupied territories, and did its best to neutralize independent West Bank leaders while attempting to “nurture” pliant substitutes. The simultaneous contacts which Israel held with the Palestinians and Hussein were aimed mainly at fending off American pressure to negotiate with Jordan by misleading the United States into thinking that the government was weighing its options. But Israel’s fait accompli policy indicated an intention which went far beyond a play for time. The cabinet hastened to annex Arab Jerusalem and secretly agreed to retain the Gaza Strip. Though persistently avoiding decision on the West Bank, Israel demonstrated its determination to keep the area or at least substantial parts of it …
‘In the following chapters we shall see the diplomacy of prevarication that Israel applied for fear of forfeiting the all-important American backing. The Israelis considered the indecision regarding the fate of the West Bank and the play for time as “tactics,” but in fact their successive resolutions and other moves coalesced into a clear, solid strategy which amounted to a foreign policy of deception (takhsisanut).’
Prime Minister Eshkol (who was Prime Minister during this period of twenty-one months until his death in February 1969 and was considered a ‘moderate’) was succeeded by Golda Meir, whose approach was more uncompromising. But their attitudes to the Palestinians were very similar.
‘There was no such thing as Palestinians … It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist’ (Golda Meir).
‘What are Palestinians? When I came here there were 250,000 non-Jews – mainly Arabs and Bedouins. It was desert – more than underdeveloped. Nothing. It was only after we made the desert bloom and populated it that they became interested in taking it from us’ (Levi Eshkol).
Israeli policy after June 1967 made it difficult for the Palestinians to develop coherent leadership or policy.
‘Israel treated them [the West Bank leaders] as a means to an end – either for retaining the occupied West Bank through some functional arrangement, or for pressuring King Hussein to yield to Israel’s terms. The occupiers sought “cooperation” from the occupied – namely a submissive attitude which would allow them a trouble-free occupation – and did not view the West Bankers as genuine partners to bona fide negotiations. Thus, countrywide political organization was banned in the occupied territories, and independent-minded figures were neutralized by arrest or exile. While repeatedly claiming publicly that they did not want quislings, the Israelis strove to “cultivate” or “groom” pro-Israel leaders – a euphemism for collaborators. Inevitably, this approach led to the emasculation of the political elite in the West Bank at a time when the local leadership could have played an important role in achieving an Arab-Israeli accommodation…’
Israeli policies weakened the moderate West Bank leadership and encouraged resistance which soon came to be led by Palestinians outside the country:
‘They were divided by personal, local and sectarian rivalries, and quite a number among their ranks were motivated by self-interest… With few exceptions, the West Bank dignitaries followed the traditional “policies of the notables”; none could muster the courage to initiate an audacious political effort vis-à-vis Israel… They did not even consider the option of armed resistance… Israel’s behaviour, then, not only enfeebled the largely moderate West Bank leadership but also invigorated the belligerent resistance organizations.’
Israel’s refusal for 50 years to end the occupation is simply a continuation of the policies that were adopted in the period immediately after the Six Day War.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process failed, and in 2000 a second, much bloodier Intifadah erupted… It is already clear that the failure is largely rooted in the pattern set by the Israeli government during the early days of the occupation. While Washington insisted that Israel should return to the pre-June 1967 War borders, the Israeli aim was – in the explicit words of Premier Levi Eshkol – to retain the “maximum of territory.” This line was pursued by subsequent governments. It was underpinned by Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, which the Eshkol government had instigated early on. The settlement construction in the West Bank never stopped; in fact, it increased sharply after the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had got under way. Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Prime Minister between 2006 and 2009, stated in 1988 that the “policy of expanding Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria … was designed to block any possibility of pressure for Israel to withdraw from those areas.” It took Olmert another two decades of intensive building of settlements to acknowledge the inevitable territorial price the Israelis must pay for peace.’
The withdrawal from Gaza ordered by Sharon on 2005, far from being a generous gesture towards the Palestinians, was intended to consolidate Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
‘Sharon had no intention of giving up “Judea and Samaria.” In fact, the so-called Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was designed to freeze the political process, thereby preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and maintaining the geopolitical status quo in the West Bank. Yet an increasing number of the more realistic Israelis have recognized that the conflict with the Palestinians cannot be resolved unless Israel accepts what the whole world has been saying from day one of the occupation: Israel must return to the pre-Six Day War lines with minor and reciprocal modifications.’
Israel has never even discussed the Arab peace offer of 2002.
‘In 2002 the Arabs offered what Israel had called for from its foundation in 1948: an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, recognition of Israel, peace agreements, and normal relations – in exchange for withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June 1967, a just solution to the refugee problem in accordance with UN Resolution 194, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital. This far-reaching peace initiative was crafted by Saudi Arabia, adopted by the twenty-two member Arab League at its summit in Beirut in March 2002, and reaffirmed at the Riyadh Summit of the Arab heads of state in March 2007. In Israel none of the governments since 2002 – Sharon’s, Olmert’s, or Netanyahu’s – has ever discussed the Arab peace offer.’
Israel has consistently lacked the will to make peace.
‘Despite high-sounding proclamations about the desire to make peace with the Arabs, whenever a prospect of reconciliation was on the table, Israel has been immobilized by fear of what it would entail. Aziz Shehadeh, who led the Palestinian entity movement, wrote in 1969: “Immediately after June 1967 a golden opportunity was offered to the Israel Government to achieve a peaceful settlement … The Israeli leaders wavered and did not grasp the importance of this offer.” Shehadeh concluded: “The seed of peace that was planted immediately after the Six Day War has thus been trampled upon by forces both within and without the country.” But Israeli leaders kept maintaining that no Arabs were willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel. As late as 1975 Yisrael Galili, who served in the cabinet from 1963, went so far as to claim that “there was not a single occasion when the government of Israel refused to respond to an Arab initiative.” However, a number of prominent contemporary officials and observers – including a cabinet minister and an army general – argued retrospectively that in the aftermath of the 1967 War, Israel missed an opportunity for a settlement with both Jordan and the Palestinians, particularly the latter.’
Abba Eban quipped that the Arabs ‘never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ But the evidence suggests that it was Israel which consistently missed every opportunity to make peace after 1967.
‘Indeed, it was not the Arabs who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity – as Eban’s often-cited quip suggests – but the Israelis, who persistently and deliberately squandered every opportunity for a settlement. They changed tack only when doing so was inescapable. King Hussein’s pithy summary was that “Israel can have either peace or territory, but not both.” Abba Eban, who quotes his observation in his 1993 memoirs, goes on to say that it was “not far from being a universal international consensus.” But it was Eban who a quarter of a century before had carried out Israel’s foreign policy of takhsisanut, or deception, designed to serve as a cover-up for the effort to gain time while staying put in the occupied lands and creating a fait accompli.’
‘The whole world is against us.’
‘This study has focused on Israel’s policy and practice in the aftermath of the June 1967 War, and some readers might feel that its conclusions, which are especially critical of Israel, are not even-handed. But it should be borne in mind that the parties to the conflict were unequal. There was the victorious occupiers on the one hand and the vanquished and the occupied on the other, and the former held all the cards. They were aware of international resentment but did not care. A popular song which came out in 1969 appropriately captured the Israeli collective spirit:
‘The whole world is against us
Never mind, we’ll overcome …
And everybody who’s against us
Let him go to hell.’
In 2017, 50 years after the occupation began, we have to deal with the situation as it is today – not what it was in the past. But Avi Raz’s history of the 21 months immediately after the June 1967 War may help us to understand how we have got ourselves into this situation.
Colin Chapman 27 March, 2017