The Six-Day War ended 45 years ago today. In his comprehensive history, Michael Oren noted the war was one of the shortest in recorded history, but that in that brief period Israeli fatalities were the equivalent, in per capita terms, of 80,000 Americans.
Two days after the war ended, Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol summarized what had led to it: on May 15, Egyptian forces had crossed the Suez Canal; by May 18 they were deployed on Israel’s border; Egypt demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces and on May 23 closed the Strait of Tiran to shipping both to and from Israel; on May 30, Egypt signed a military agreement with Jordan and another one with Iraq on June 4; together with the one already in place with Syria, the encirclement of Israel was complete, and secret orders had been issued to prepare for the attack on Israel. Then Eshkol addressed the Arabs directly:
“To the Arab peoples I want to say: we did not take up arms in any joyful spirit. We acted because we had no alternative if we wanted to defend our lives and our rights. Just as you have a right to your countries, so we have a right to ours. The roots of the Jewish people in this country go back to primeval days. Throughout the generations, Israel in dispersion maintained its spiritual and material links ….
“There is no parallel in the annuals of the nations to this unique bond between our people and its Land. Perhaps the fact that we have successfully survived the three wars that have been forced upon us will finally convince those who refuse to recognize this fundamental truth …”
Oren notes that the most popular song in Israel, after “Jerusalem of Gold,” was “The Song of Peace,” whose lyrics were a message from those who had died in the war:
No one can bring us back
From the dark depths of our grave
Here the thrill of victory means nothing
Nor do songs of praise
Therefore, sing a song for peace
Do not merely whisper a prayer
In 1978, Israel traded the entire Sinai for peace; Egypt has recently demonstrated that withdrawals from land are permanent but promises of peace are not. In 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza; they declined in favor of a barbaric war on Israeli civilians. In 2001, after Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, the Palestinians rejected them. In 2005, Israel removed every settler and soldier from Gaza, and got a rocket war in return. In 2008, Israel offered a state again, and got no response at all.
The three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state were three more than Egypt or Jordan offered during their illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank from 1948 to 1967. Currently, the Palestinians refuse to negotiate a fourth offer, without pre-negotiation concessions by Israel on the issues to be negotiated. They reject “two states for two peoples,” insist they will “never” recognize a Jewish state, demand a “right of return” to reverse history, and insist on borders repositioning the parties to the same lines that led to the war 45 years ago.
Forty-five years later, they are no closer to recognizing the “fundamental truth” that Eshkol identified as the basic requirement for peace.