The Six-Day War´s cruel Irony (*)
No war has left such a lasting impact on the prospect for peace or the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Arab nations like the Six-Day War of June 1967. The dramatic outcome of the war has caused 40 years of animosity and occupation and continues to affect the geopolitics of the Middle East.
Four decades ago, on the morning of June 5, 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Egypt, escalating to a six-day war with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. By the sixth and final day of the conflict the Arab army was heavily defeated and accepted a ceasefire. Israel won a decisive victory, capturing significant Arab territories, including the unfinished conquest of Palestine from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. In addition, Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
The Arab defeat was devastating. Immediately after the war ended, the heads of Arab states passed the infamous Khartoum resolution with its triple "no" - no to peace with Israel, no to recognition of Israel, no to negotiation with Israel. Israel was, thus, condemned to regional isolation.
The war was a turning-point in Arab politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arab politics were reshuffled. The position of Egypt as the most powerful state and leader of the Arab states was profoundly weakened by the outcome of the war. Arab nationalism, embodied in the personality and leadership of then president Gamal Abdel Nasser, was shaken, if not dissolved, under the impact of the defeat. Egypt no longer acted as a spokesman of the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) emerged from the ashes of the war under the leadership of Yasser Arafat as a movement independent of the influence of the Arab states. Meanwhile, Arabs' unity lessened while their dependency on one or other superpower - the United States and the Soviet Union - dramatically increased.
Israel not only demonstrated the strength of its military, but also the weakness and limitation of the Arab forces, tipping the balance of power in its favor. In doing so, Israel believed that a show of muscle would deter future threats. Palestinians, however, drew a different lesson from the war: that armed resistance was the only way to deal with the occupation. In the aftermath of the 1967 conflict, with Arafat in charge, the PLO was committed to guerrilla warfare against Israel.
Four decades of violence, however, have shown both sides to have been wrong. Neither the hope of deterrence for the Israelis, nor the hope of liberation for the Palestinians has been fulfilled, ultimately undermined by the cycle of violence. Two Palestinian uprisings or intifida, a string of suicide bombings and rocket attacks, land confiscations, house demolitions, and targeted killings show that the price of occupation is too high for both sides. And, yet, the bloodletting continues.
But the cruel irony of the Six-Day War is that the very same conflict that claimed, and continues to claim, so many lives, together with its accompanying destruction, also opened the door for regional peace, security, and stability. The land-for-peace formula was introduced November 22, 1967 when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted UN Resolution 242, calling for "a just and lasting peace in the Middle East." To achieve it, Resolution 242 required the fulfillment of two principles: "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," and "termination of all claims or states of belligerency, and respect for, and acknowledgement of, the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area, and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from tretas or acts of force."
Unfortunately, progress in accordance with Resolution
How many more decades must elapse, how many more deaths will it take, and how much more destruction must be wrought before Palestine is free and Israel is secure? Surely, violence is not the answer. As the past and present have shown, aggression has no limits regarding the human cost or physical destruction; it can hardly lead to peace. Fortunately, there is an alternative answer. Future generations can be spared unnecessary atrocities if different lessons are drawn from the unfortunate aftermath of the June 1967 War. Peace and security do not come from violence. The land-for-peace principle as laid down in Resolution 242 is the only way forward.
Universidad Pompeu Fabra - Columbia University, NY.