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Going Back To The Beginning Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
June, 2008

Israel's policymakers should adopt the old Hebrew folk-saying and 'Go Back to The Beginning.'  Literally, 'The Beginning' is the Biblical Book of Genesis, ('Be'reshit' in Hebrew), but the practical meaning is to start all over again.  

They ought to remind themselves that the objective of the Six-Day War that began June 5, 1967, was to defend the Jewish state, not to expand its territorial domain.  The fact that the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights were taken stems from the military principle upon which Israeli strategy was based in those days, namely, that the best defense is offense.

Therefore, the right-wing activists who oppose withdrawal from what they call Judea and Samaria because these regions constituted the Biblical heartland and those who do not want to give the Golan back to Syria for assorted reasons -- strategical, economic and political -- are missing the point.
 
A country that goes to war and in the process seizes territory from another country normally enters into negotiations with its defeated enemy and withdraws from part or all of the area taken only if it receives an unequivocal commitment to peace among other concessions (including territorial ones if relevant).

This principle was upheld belatedly in 1979 and 1994, when peace treaties were concluded by Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan respectively.  The Gaza Strip, which was taken by the Egyptian army in 1948, was not given back to Egypt because it had been under Egyptian military administration only and was not demanded by the late President Anwar Sadat anyway -- either because it had not been annexed
by Egypt or because he did not want to be responsible for its then-600,000 (now 1.3 million) Palestinian inhabitants.
 
Judea and Samaria (the sectors defined by the Jordanians as their West Bank) did not revert to Jordanian control because the late King Hussein divested himself of them in 1988. When he did so, Israel could have annexed them, but for domestic political reasons she did not.
 
The latter decision, (preceded by a similar decision in June, 1967) which stemmed from ethnocentric notions such as a reluctance to reduce the demographic ratio of Jews to Arabs from 8-2 to 6-4 and an unwillingness on the part of Israel's religious political parties to increase the percentage of Muslims and  Christians within Israel's population, did not necessarily compel the government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to offer the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization -- a non-state and an entity that could not be expected to uphold the commitments and responsibilities of a state.
 
Israel actually miscalculated politically to such an extent that in the wake of its stunning victory in 1967 when the Palestinians were in awe of her military prowess she missed a unique opportunity to reconstitute this country as a homeland for the two nationalities that inhabit it.  The moment for that came when the Khartoum Conference, which adjourned in the Sudanese capital, Sept. 1, 1967, unanimously adopted the three fatal 'No's' : no recognition of Israel, no negotiations and no peace.  There could have been an immediate diplomatic response that would have changed the course of Middle Eastern history -- annexation -- but there was none.
 
Ironically, this leads to the grotesque possibility that the PLO, if not the Palestinians as such, will be the ultimate winners of the Six-Day War.  It not only acquired part of Palestine despite its not having been one of the belligerents, but also gained international support for its claim to Jerusalem, the pre-1967 Jordanian sector of which was conquered by Israel's armed forces.
 
The Turkish-brokered negotiations now under way between Israel and Syria also run counter to international custom.  Syria's demand that the entire Golan Heights be returned to her sovereignty as a sine qua non for peace overlooks the fact that the Syrians lost the war in 1967 and were repulsed in 1973 when they mounted a surprise attack to retake the Golan. 
 
One of the complicating factors is Israel's controversial policy of allowing her citizens to settle in the Golan, engage in agricultural and industrial activity with attendant investments exceeding eight billion dollars and establish a city there too.

I recall my first visit to a then-new kibbutz in the Golan shortly after the war, which I covered on the front line.  A group of left-wing Israelis had taken up residence there, construing this as consistent with their pacifist ideology!  When asked to explain, one of the kibbutzniks said he and his comrades believed that by settling there they were creating a catalyst for the Syrians to make peace that much sooner.  There was no such effect.  Instead, Israeli hardliners have gone on to make retention of the Golan Heights a national imperative.

 

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