President Obama’s recent statements about using the 1967 borders as the basis for a settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict sparked strong reactions. These reactions also show that many people are terribly misinformed about who started the Six-Day War.
Initially Israel said that it had been attacked and that its survival was at stake. However Israel began the fighting when it launched a sneak air attack on Egypt on June 5th. This Israeli attack essentially won the war since it destroyed the bulk of the Egyptian air force whose planes were still on the ground.
Since both U.S. and Israeli intelligence services confidently predicted that Israel would quickly win a war against the Arab forces, the claim about Israel’s survival being at risk was purely propaganda. Israeli General Matityah Peled, chief of the logistical command during the 1967 war, was blunt in March 1972: “Since 1949 no one was in any position to threaten the very existence of Israel. Despite this, we continue to nurture the feeling of inferiority as though we were a weak and insignificant people struggling to preserve our own existence in the face of impending extermination.” In another 1972 interview, Mordechai Bentov, a former member of the Israeli ruling coalition during the June war, stated: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived and then elaborated on afterwards to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”
Confronted with this evidence about the Israeli attack, many now argue that the attack was preemptive. Leading up to the Israeli attack, both sides were engaging in brinkmanship with many provocations particularly along the Israeli-Syrian border. On May 22nd, Yitzak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff, met with Moshe Dayan, the Israeli military legend. According to Rabin, Dayan critiqued the Israeli Cabinet and Army saying: “The nature and scale of our reprisal actions against Syria and Jordan had left Nasser with no choice but to defend his image … thereby setting off a train of escalation in the entire region.”
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser took steps to take the pressure off Syria. He ordered the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) from Egyptian territory. Little noted is that Israel immediately repeatedly rejected requests to allow the UNEF to take up positions on its territory. Nasser also moved large numbers of Egyptian troops into the Sinai followed by Israel beginning a large-scale mobilization of its reserves. Nasser subsequently said the Straits of Tiran were closed to Israeli flagships and to ships carrying oil and weapons bound for Israel. Israel had not sent a flagship through the straits in nearly two years, but it did ship Iranian oil through the straits. Diplomats worked to resolve this crisis, and the Egyptian vice-president was to meet with President Johnson on June 7th. Dean Rusk, the U.S. Secretary of State, was bitterly disappointed by the Israeli attack since he thought he could have achieved a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Despite these moves by Nasser, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban wrote in his autobiography “Nasser did not want war; he wanted victory without war.” James Reston of the New York Times wrote from Cairo on June 4th that: “Cairo does not want war and it is certainly not ready for war.” In 1968 Yitzak Rabin said: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai in May  would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.” In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Begin admitted: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” Reinforcing the position that Egypt was not prepared for war with Israel, Egypt then had 50,000 of its crack troops tied down in Yemen.
Given these doubts about Israel’s stated reasons, why did Israel attack? Was it to deny Nasser a political victory and to crush the idea of Arab unity? Or was the intent to destroy Arab weapons and forces? In a 1976 interview Moshe Dayan said the attack on Syria was due to Israelis’ greed for Syrian land. It is likely that all three of these reasons played some role in the decision to attack. However, regardless of the reason, in July 1967 Gen. Yigal Allon, then deputy prime minister for the Labor Party, created a plan to solidify Israel’s occupation of key parts of the West Bank and to prevent the formation of a viable Palestinian state. This Allon Plan, slightly expanded, has basically been implemented in the West Bank, making daily life almost impossible for Palestinians and leading to horrific violence and terrible losses for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Israel was the clear aggressor in the 1967 war. Since international law bans the taking of land by force, Obama was on solid ground in emphasizing the June 4, 1967 borders. However, even if Israel had been the victim instead of the aggressor of the attack, the Geneva Accords prohibit the placement of people from an occupying power on the land being occupied. All the Israeli colonialists living in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, are thus residing there illegally.
However Obama’s statement ceded power to Israel re peace negotiations when he added that there should be mutually agreed upon land swaps to the June 4, 1967 borders in order to provide secure and recognized borders for both Israel and Palestine. If Israel doesn’t agree to the proposed land swaps, then what? In addition, land swaps reward Israel for violating international law.
If Palestinians want a two-state resolution, that is their choice. However, instead of starting negotiations from a point that flouts international law, why not offer a proposal to the world community that recognizes international law and also takes into account the difficulty of dealing with the Israeli colonialists on Palestinian land?
One possible proposal might be to offer the lease to Israel of a small portion of Palestinian land at an annual cost of some billions of dollars. This leasing would represent a huge and unpalatable concession of the part of the Palestinians. To make this proposal digestible for the Palestinians, Israel would have to offer huge inducements.
These inducements might include, for example, the following: 1) Israeli reparations to those Palestinians whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the Occupied Territories; 2) Israeli reparations to those Palestinians whose olive trees were uprooted and to others whose means of livelihood were damaged or destroyed; 3) Israeli reparations for the damaged Palestinian infrastructure; 4) Palestinian control of the aquifers on the land leased to Israelis with an equal distribution of water to Palestinians and Israelis on a per-person basis; 5) Israelis living on the leased land recognize that they are living in Palestine and are subject to Palestinian laws and taxes; 6) Israelis living on Palestinian lands must turn in their weapons; 7) Israel must tear down the Wall that is on Palestinian land; and 8) Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli colonialists living outside the leased land must return to Israel. There would also have to be a truth and reconciliation commission, similar to that used in South Africa, addressing the violations of international law. In addition, any Israeli military attacks on the Palestinian territories would terminate the lease agreement. An international force would monitor the borders and would be based on both sides of the recognized borders. Finally, Israel must provide Palestine with Israeli land equal in value, not size, to those lands Israel leases in Palestine.
There are several other points, including reparations for killing and wounding civilians, to be considered for a comprehensive resolution. In addition, the Palestinian ‘Right of Return’ is a key point not considered here. This proposal represents only one possible suggestion for dealing with the Occupation.
Many would say that this idea is crazy because it is almost certain that Israel and the U.S. would immediately reject it. Why spend any time even thinking of something like this? However, face it, these two nations would oppose any reasonable resolution. It would be up to the international community to use sanctions and other tools such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to bring about a fair resolution. Unless justice, human rights and international law are honored in any resolution, there will not be a lasting peace in the Middle East.