The Jerusalem Post, Jun. 12, 2002

STOP APOLOGIZING FOR 1967

By Michael Freund

"Two years prior, Levi Eshkol unveiled a peace plan that could have resolved the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all."

In the 35 years that have passed since the June 1967 Six Day War, Israel has made a lot of mistakes.

Military overconfidence led to a close call in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when invading Arab armies nearly overran the country's defenses. Political overconfidence led to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when Israel sought to reshape the internal political balance of its northern neighbor.

And it was strategic overconfidence that contributed to the 1993 Oslo accords, which have now brought the country to the brink of disaster.

But of all the errors, miscalculations, and slip-ups in the past three decades, perhaps the greatest of them all has not been one of too much confidence, but precisely the opposite. Namely, a lack of conviction and belief in the justness of our cause.

Ads appearing in various Israeli newspapers of late bemoan the outcome of the Six Day War, lamenting the "occupation" of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. A variety of commentators wish out loud that Israel had never gained control over the territories, fantasizing about what life would be like without them.

But what they conveniently ignore is everything that preceded the 1967 war: the increased Palestinian terror, the massive Arab military buildup, and the public threats by Arab leaders to annihilate the Jewish state.

Left-wing Israeli proponents of withdrawal have cast a fog over history, shifting the focus away from the "whys" of the 1967 war, and replacing them instead with "why us?"

Most people forget, but two years prior to 1967, back when Israel was narrow and tiny and did not yet "occupy" anyone else's land, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol unveiled a peace plan that could have resolved the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.

SPEAKING TO the Knesset on May 17, 1965, Eshkol proposed to open direct negotiations with the Arab states with the aim of turning the 1949 armistice agreements into full-fledged peace treaties.

Pointing out that Israel's four Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, combined had 60 times the land area of the Jewish state, Eshkol suggested that the pursuit of war by the Arabs was a needless waste of precious human and material resources. Instead, he laid out a vision of peace that would have included open borders, freedom of transit and communications, bilateral trade and economic cooperation, as well as access to the holy sites of all religions.

All he asked from the Arabs, said Eshkol, was "full respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the States in the region." Israel's offer of peace was met two years later with a clear and unequivocal Arab response. Egypt and Syria mobilized their armies and vowed to destroy the Jewish state.

On May 20, 1967, Hafez Assad, who was then serving as Syria's defense minister, said, "Our forces are now entirely ready to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation." On May 26, Egyptian president Nasser declared in a speech to his nation, "Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel." At a press conference the following day, PLO founder Ahmad Shukeiry said, "D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation." On May 30, Cairo Radio was even more explicit: "Israel has two choices, both of which are drenched with Israel's blood: Either it will be strangled by the Arab military and economic siege, or it will be killed by the bullets of the Arab armies surrounding it from the south, from the north and from the east." A week later, the war began. And a week after that, it had ended, leaving Israel in control of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.

Instead of grumbling about the result, we should be rejoicing in it. Faced with the threat of extinction, the State of Israel fought off its enemies and liberated the cradle of ancient Jewish civilization, reuniting Jerusalem and depriving our enemies of the platform from which they had sought our destruction.

Israel did not occupy Judea, Samaria, and Gaza - we won them fair and square in an act of self-defense. The war of 1967 was one that Israel neither asked for nor initiated. And the time has come for us to stop apologizing for winning it.

The writer served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.

(c) The Jerusalem Post



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