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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

What if Israel Had Turned Back?
An invitation to discuss an Opinion.

The New York Times has an Op-ed by Tom Segev. In it he postulates what may have happened if Israel had chosen not to 'conquer the Arab sections of the city as well as the West Bank.'

Picture Credit: David Suter

I've included the whole article, as I would like to comment on it in depth in the near future.
I'm very interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on this article.
Please do comment.


Forty years ago today, on the morning of June 5, 1967, Jordan launched an artillery attack on the Israeli part of Jerusalem. In reaction Israel conquered the Arab sections of the city as well as the West Bank.

History is full of “what ifs,” and responsible historians should not indulge in such speculation. But journalists may. What if Israel hadn’t taken East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War? Would the Palestinian situation have found some solution and Israel be living at least in relative peace with its neighbors? Would Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism have been avoided?

Perhaps. But the alternate history is not as outrageous or inconceivable as one might think. Leading Israeli policy planners had determined six months before the Six-Day War that capturing the West Bank would be bad for the country. Recently declassified Israeli government documents show that according to these policy planners, taking over the West Bank would weaken the relative strength of Israel’s Jewish majority, encourage Palestinian nationalism and ultimately lead to violent resistance.

These comprehensive political and strategic discussions began in November 1966 and concluded in January 1967. The participants were representatives of the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence branch and the Foreign Ministry. The documents they prepared were approved by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and the army’s chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, and therefore reflect Israel’s strategic thinking six months before the war.

There was general agreement that it would be to Israel’s advantage for King Hussein of Jordan, whose country controlled the West Bank, to remain in power: he had, in effect, accepted Israel’s existence, so Israel naturally had an interest in strengthening his regime.

Hussein was also endeavoring to unify the West Bank with the East Bank and was encouraging West Bank Palestinians to migrate to the east. Over the preceding 15 years, the number of Palestinians who had left the West Bank for the east had reached 200,000. Moreover, approximately 100,000 Palestinians had left Jordan altogether. Hussein’s effort to integrate Palestinians was “a positive phenomenon from Israel’s point of view,” concluded the final position paper that emerged from that winter’s discussions. Hussein was acting to eradicate the Palestinian question, and this was an excellent reason not to take the West Bank away from him.

But when Jordan attacked the Israeli part of Jerusalem on the first day of the conflict, all reason was forgotten. Jordan’s attack obviously called for some kind of retaliation — but striking back at the Jordanian Army did not require the conquest of the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

Records of the Israeli cabinet meeting where the scope of the retaliation was determined are now available. Amazingly they show that not one of the cabinet ministers ever asked why it was in the interest of Israel to control the Arab parts of Jerusalem. Israel was about to take over some of the holiest places in the Christian and the Muslim world, but no analysts were called in to offer the cabinet alternative ideas. No experts on international law were asked to brief the ministers on the legal implications of their pending decision.

The ministers obviously felt there was no need to raise these questions: the answer was as clear as only fantasy can be. Acting under the influence of the age-old dream of return to Zion as well as Israel’s spectacular victory over Egypt’s forces a few hours previously, the ministers decided with their hearts, not their heads, to take East Jerusalem.

Their emotions propelled the Israelis to act against their national interest. It may have been a series of threatening moves taken by Egypt, or it may have been the intoxication of victory, but in view of the results of the war there was indeed no justification for the panic that had preceded it, nor for the euphoria that took hold after it, which is what makes the story of Israel in 1967 so difficult to comprehend.

And of course once taken, East Jerusalem could not be given back. To the present day it remains the major obstacle for a settlement.

I belong to a generation of Israelis who slowly but surely came to believe in peace. We needed to believe in it. The years since the 1967 conflict led us from war to war, and from one mistake to another. When new hopes emerged, they were overcome by disappointments, and then forgotten. Still, we regarded the conquests of 1967 as temporary and were encouraged by the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, under which Israel withdrew from Egyptian territory captured in 1967. We believed that peace with the Palestinians would follow.

But peace with the Palestinians has not come one inch closer. As a result more and more Israelis realize today that Israel gained absolutely nothing from the conquest of the Palestinian territories. Speculating again in hindsight — Israel may have been better off giving up the West Bank and East Jerusalem without peace than signing the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan while keeping these territories. Forty years of oppression and Palestinian terrorism, both extremely cruel, have undermined Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundations. With about 400,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with extreme Islamism as a driving force among the Palestinians, the conflict has become infinitely more difficult to solve.

Hence young Israelis have good reason to look at my generation and say, “You blew it.” I suppose we did. In contrast to my generation, these young people no longer presume to know what should be done to solve the conflict; indeed they often no longer believe in peace. Many resort to cynical skepticism and fatalistic pessimism.

And yet — less idealistic and more pragmatic than people of my generation — young Israelis may also be more realistic than us. Their immediate challenge is conflict management, rather than futile efforts to formulate grand schemes of ultimate solutions to the conflict. With fewer hopes and lower expectations they just may be able to make life at least somewhat more livable for both Israelis and Palestinians. Given the present circumstances, that would be no small accomplishment.

Tom Segev, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is the author, most recently, of “1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East.”

References: NYT: What if Israel Had Turned Back?


Mr Bagel said...

Thanks for commenting, I'm really looking forward to seeing what other Jews think about this editorial.
Shalom Aaron [Mr Bagel]

Batya said...

The post 6 Day War borders are natural, historical and defensive borders. That's why and how we won.
The leftists are lying to themselves, claiming liberalism and that they want peace, but in truth they are dangerous reactionaries (http://www.answers.com/topic/reactionary)trying to restore the past cease-fire lines, which were never viable.

Akiva said...

These people lie to themselves, pretending a view of the idealistic past, so they can point to their unrealistic instant options and say, that's the way it was and can be again.

The Jordanians LEVELED every Jewish holy site. They BLEW UP synagogues that were hundreds of years old. No JEW was allowed to live in THEIR territory. And, they took potshots, sniping from East to West Jerusalem.

Prior to that, the Jewish towns, built on unpopulated barren land WITH PERMISSION and/or PURCHASE (from the Ottoman 'owners'), were raided and attacked REGULARLY.

The mistake made in '67 wasn't winning, G-d forbid that it should be not appreciated, but in trying to act kind and humanitarian as the victor. If Israel had acted as every single one of their assailants had acted (including their 'neighbors'), they would have LEVELED the holy sites and EXPELLED the hostile population.

Note, you don't have to look at history to see this. Look at what's happening right now in Lebanon. The Lebanese army is shelling and leveling a 'Palestinian' area due to threat and attack from there. They (the Lebanese army) are NOT trying to minimize civilian casualties, they are NOT threatening and doing nothing, they are NOT negotiating for 7 years before taking minimalist actions, they're blowing the (feces) out of the area of threat.

Kohelet said, if you are kind to the cruel... well, you know the rest.

YMedad said...

Here's my letter that I just sent off to the NYTimes:-

Why should Tom Segev limit his query of what could have happened if "Israel Had Turned Back?" (June 5) to the year 1967?

Could we not ask what would have happened had the Arabs accepted the territorial compromise plan of the United Nations in 1947? And would the answer be no refugees, on either side; no establishment of the PLO and its terror apparatus; no denial of Jewish rights to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem until the city was united, again, in 1967 but rather the beginnings of peace?

Rafi G said...

I fail to understand why acting "on the age old dream of Zionism" is not a good reason to conquer territory in a defensive war.
Every country in history that has gone to war and been successful has conquered territory. Are we the only ones not allowed that liberty? Even in a defensive war?

Furthermore, Segev claims that we conquered an area filled with Christian Muslim holy sites that we had no business controlling. He makes no mention of the jewish holy sites that we also took control of, nor of the Jewish holy sites, that by his own logic, the Jordanians should have had no right controlling prior to the war.

Cosmic X said...

See this.

Freedom said...

Tom Segev in his inimitable, articulate, revisionist style is unable to understand the fact that it is not Israel who started the fighting as soon as it became a new independent nation. It was attacked by all its neighbors, including the Jordanians within days of becoming a country. And it was the same Jordanians who chose to enter the fray of battle, in spite of Israel's pleads not to, in 1967.

Had Jerusalem not been taken in 1967 you can bet your bottom dollar the Jordanian Legion would have continued to indiscriminately take pot shots at Israel.

I was among the first civilians (on what in the Diaspora was the second day of Shavuot) to walk through the Jaffa gate and saw how Jewish tombstones had been used to build latrines, I saw how much respect and hatred the Jordanians had for the Jews. Contrast this with the respect and full access given to one and all the sacred places, regardless of religion, under Israeli control. Contrast this with the Palestinian plundering of the Bethlehem Church where in 2002 terrorists took refuge.

If Mr. Segev, a "new historian" (read: revisionist historian) truly believes that having given back Jerusalem would have brought peace, then how does he explain the infamous Hebron massacre in the '20s under the direction of Haj Amin al-Husseini , the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, intimate friend of Hitler and Arafat's mother's uncle?

The Jewish community in Hebron lived there uninterrupted since biblical times. At the time of their massacre, Zionism was still a far off dream more popular in the semi-fashionable salons of Europe (and a few kibbutzim) than in Hebron or Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was certainly not under Jewish control when the massacre ocurred! But Mr. Segev, the "new historian" chooses not to dwell on what was - though historians are supposed to - rather he concentrates on fanciful "what ifs" which have no grounding in reality, no historical precedent to arrive at his conclusions. What historical proof does Segev draw on to make such his outrageous statement?

The truth about Jerusalem, as any simple perusal of history would show even the most ignorant observer, is not as Mr. Segev claims. It is not true that To the present day it remains the major obstacle for a settlement." What remains the only obstacle for peace, as far as any Palestinian is concerned, is the very existence of a Jewish State. To claim otherwise is very naive at best and an outright lie at worst.

When I first went to the kotel, on what to me as an American volunteer, was the second day of Shavuot, I witnessed a brit milah (a circumcision), the dancing and singing was incredible, the baby was named "Netzach - Victory." Emotional? You betcha!

Was the taking of East Jerusalem and the West Bank the right strategy? Ask any Israeli general and his answer too will be, You betcha!

Yid With Lid said...

there is a very simple answer...If Israel had stopped there would be no Israel today. Thats what the Arabs want and that is also what the NY Times wants-which is why they were given a lifetime achievement award in the self hating Jew hall of fame--in fact the NY Times was the first recipient of the coveted S**T Head. (See http://yidwithlid.blogspot.com/2007/04/ny-times-recieves-lifetime-achievment.html)

Daled Amos said...

Segev seems a bit overly enthusiastic. Though the Six Day War was a defensive war, he repeatedly writes about Israel's "conquest"--finally overstepping historical fact and writing that:

more and more Israelis realize today that Israel gained absolutely nothing from the conquest of the Palestinian territories.

But Gaza and the West Bank were never Palestinian territories--Israel captured those areas from Egypt and Jordan, which had illegally captured what had been under British Mandate, which had previously been under Ottoman Rule: Gaza and the West Bank have never been Palestinian territories.

Segev ignores a bit of legal history:

The last binding international legal instrument which divided the territory in the region of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza was the League of Nations Mandate, which explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in all territory allocated to the Jewish national home in the context of the British Mandate. These rights under the British Mandate were preserved by the successor organization to the League of Nations, the United Nations, under Article 49 of the UN Charter.

Just whose history is he writing?

Akiva said...

A correction to what Freedom wrote, saying "What remains the only obstacle for peace, as far as any Palestinian is concerned, is the very existence of a Jewish State". No, what remains an obstacle to peace is the existence of Jews in Israel.

As someone commented above, Hebron in the 20's wasn't because of the existence of Israel. It was just because Esav hates Yaakov, and because THEY COULD.

Sultan Knish said...

palestinian terrorism did not begin in 1967

it began long before that

gaza under egyptian rule regularly sent out terrorists from arab villages into israel and israeli commandos struck back inside egyptian borders

failing to conquer the territories would have made a succeeding war more likely and more dangerous for israel

as it is, israel was nearly destroyed in the yom kippur war

one can imagine what might have happened if israel didn't have the territories to prevent it from being cut in two by arab armies

Daled Amos said...

See also Did Israel Seek War In 1967? by Michael Oren, which challenges Segev directly on the question of what the primary sources indicate.

Daled Amos said...

Segev also makes numerous references to "East Jerusalem"

It is worth noting, as Media Backspin points out:

East with a capital E makes the term a proper noun, suggesting two officially separate municipalities. Since when is the word "east" anything but a descriptive reference when it comes to Jerusalem? Up to 1948, Arabs and Jews lived in a unified city that made no distinctions between "East" and "€œWest."€ As Mitch Bard points out:

The only time that the eastern part of Jerusalem was exclusively Arab was between 1949 and 1967, and that was because Jordan occupied the area and forcibly expelled all the Jews.
[emphasis added]

Soccer Dad said...

There were a number of good responses in today's letters section, especially:
Here are some additional “what ifs” that deserve equal consideration:

What if the Arabs had accepted the United Nations partition plan of 1947, dividing the remainder of mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state? What if in the aftermath of Israel’s 1948 war of independence the Arab states had assimilated the refugees into their societies, rather than leave them to fester in refugee camps for generations?

What if the Arabs had created a Palestinian state in the West Bank between 1948 and 1967, when it was held by Jordan? What if Jordan had heeded Israel’s pleas at the outbreak of the Six-Day War and not joined the attack?
by Gregg M. Mashberg.