Commentary Magazine


Topic: Six-Day War

The Dangerous Divided Jerusalem Fantasy

On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

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On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

The conceit of the divided Jerusalem scheme is that the old “green line” that once cut through the city as well as the West Bank is alive and well. Since the second intifada, Jews largely avoid Arab sectors of the city and Arabs do the same in Jewish sections. The only problem then is how to “soften” the appearance of a division so as to codify the reality of a divided city without actually reinstating the ugly and perilous military fortifications that served as the front lines for the Arab-Israeli wars from 1949 to 1967.

There is some truth to the notion that Jerusalem is currently divided in this manner. But it is a fallacy to assert that it is anything as absolute as the authors of the plan and their media cheerleaders claim. Contrary to the notion popularized by the terminology used by the media, there is no real east or west Jerusalem. The city is built on hills with much of the “eastern” section actually in the north and south where Jewish neighborhoods on the other side of the green line have existed for over 40 years. The idea that this can all be easily sorted out by handing out the Jewish sections to Israel and the Arab ones to “Palestine” won’t work.

It is a falsehood to assert that 40 percent of Jerusalemites can’t vote in municipal elections. Residents of Arab neighborhoods could vote but don’t. If they did participate they would hold real power, but for nationalist reasons they choose to boycott the democratic process and the result is that they have been shortchanged. While current Mayor Nir Barkat opposes division of the city, he has rightly argued that Israel has to do better in serving Arab neighborhoods because with sovereignty comes responsibility. But what the plan’s authors also leave out of the equation is that a division would deprive many of these same Arabs of their employment and health coverage since a great number work on the Israeli side or get their medical treatment there. Will they give that up for Palestine? Just as when the security barrier was erected, many Arabs will clamor to stay on the Israeli side of any divide for obvious reasons.

Left unsaid in the piece is the fact that there are actually a number of interlocked Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Nor does it explain how the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus (which was isolated as a Jewish enclave during the Jordanian occupation) could be reached from what they propose to be Israeli Jerusalem or how Jerusalemites could access the scenic Sherover/Haas promenade in the city. And those are just a few of the anomalies that go unsolved or unanswered in a scheme that treats transportation patterns and border security as if they were mere blots on the map rather than avoidable facts.

There’s also no mention here about how security in this intricately divided city could be administered. Would Israelis really be prepared to cede the security of their capital to foreign forces? Could peace monitors be relied upon to respect Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods if they become, after peace, the object of a new intifada whose purpose would be to chip away at the rump of the Jewish state?

Nor is there any reason to believe the newly partitioned city would be one in which religious freedom at the holy places would be respected, especially since the Arab side of the new wall will almost certainly be declared a Jew-free zone by the Palestinian Authority and its Hamas allies/antagonists.

Just as important, rather than allowing a city that has grown by leaps and bounds to continue to thrive, a new partition would create more than political barriers. It would strangle the city’s economy, a common fate for all divided cities. That is something that would damage both Jews and Arabs.

But even if we were to concede that all these problems could be somehow miraculously worked out to the satisfaction of all sides, one big obstacle remains to the implementation of this plan: Palestinian cooperation. This is, after all, pretty much the same plan that Ehud Olmert offered to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. Abbas fled the negotiating table rather than be forced to respond to a plan that would have involved recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Compromise is always possible when both sides desire an outcome in which each will get some but not all of what they want. But so long as Palestinian national identity is still inextricably linked with the war on Zionism, no plan, no matter how reasonable sounding, can work.

It is telling that although groups dedicated to co-existence liberally funded the partition plan, there is not one Palestinian Arab architect associated with it. That is not an accident. Had the Palestinians wanted to accept a divided Jerusalem as part of their new state they could have had one in 2000, 2001, 2008, or even this year had they chosen to negotiate seriously with a Netanyahu government that was already prepared to cede most of the West Bank. But they didn’t take it and there’s no indication that they will change their mind anytime soon.

The obstacle to dividing Jerusalem isn’t one of aesthetics or engineering or even the problem of drawing a border in a place that causes the least harm to both sides. It is about a conflict that won’t be resolved until the Palestinians give up their fantasy of eradicating the Jewish state. When that happens, then perhaps utopian designs such as this one will be feasible and Israelis will be willing to give up their rightful to claim to all of their historic capital and share sovereignty. But until then, the only point of such plans is to undermine Jewish claims to the city in a manner that undermines hope for peace.

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Iran, France, and Memories of 1967

Like Jonathan, I breathed a sigh of gratitude to France this weekend for thwarting–at least for now–a horrendous deal that would have granted Iran significant and probably irreversible sanctions relief while letting it continue making rapid progress toward a nuclear bomb. But contrary to the snide Western diplomat who accused Laurent Fabius of making trouble just to achieve “relevance,” I can think of two substantive reasons for the French foreign minister’s strong stance. One is that France has consistently taken a tougher line against Iran’s nuclear program than the Obama administration has. But another may stem from historical memory–and the clue is Fabius’s statement that “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”

At first glance, this is astounding. If any party to the talks were going to spare a thought for Israel’s concerns, one would expect it to be the U.S., or even Germany: Both are closer Israeli allies than France, which usually leads the anti-Israel camp. But France attaches great importance to averting Israeli military action against Iran; that’s precisely why it pushed for a European oil embargo on Iran (“We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline”). And France has a very specific historical reason for doubting the widespread view that Israel wouldn’t dare attack Iran in defiance of its major patron: It’s called the Six-Day War.

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Like Jonathan, I breathed a sigh of gratitude to France this weekend for thwarting–at least for now–a horrendous deal that would have granted Iran significant and probably irreversible sanctions relief while letting it continue making rapid progress toward a nuclear bomb. But contrary to the snide Western diplomat who accused Laurent Fabius of making trouble just to achieve “relevance,” I can think of two substantive reasons for the French foreign minister’s strong stance. One is that France has consistently taken a tougher line against Iran’s nuclear program than the Obama administration has. But another may stem from historical memory–and the clue is Fabius’s statement that “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”

At first glance, this is astounding. If any party to the talks were going to spare a thought for Israel’s concerns, one would expect it to be the U.S., or even Germany: Both are closer Israeli allies than France, which usually leads the anti-Israel camp. But France attaches great importance to averting Israeli military action against Iran; that’s precisely why it pushed for a European oil embargo on Iran (“We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline”). And France has a very specific historical reason for doubting the widespread view that Israel wouldn’t dare attack Iran in defiance of its major patron: It’s called the Six-Day War.

Though few people remember nowadays, in 1967, Paris occupied much the same position that Washington occupies now with respect to Israel: Not only was France Israel’s chief arms supplier and Security Council patron, but it was the only country willing to supply Israel with essential equipment such as fighter jets. Israel’s air force fought the Six-Day War with French Mirages; only the following year, in 1968, did America for the first time agree to sell it Phantom jets.

Consequently, Charles de Gaulle had every reason to think that when he spoke, Israel would listen. And the French president’s message in 1967 was unequivocal: Under no circumstances must Israel launch a preemptive strike; if it did, it could kiss French patronage goodbye. Israel heard the message loud and clear–and preempted anyway. Facing what it deemed an existential threat, it decided that even the loss of its sole military supplier was the lesser evil.

France knows that today, Israel deems Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat. France also knows that Israel would probably risk less by defying the Obama administration than it did by defying France in 1967: De Gaulle severed the military relationship completely, refusing even to deliver planes and gunboats Israel had already paid for, at a time when Israel had no assurance that Washington would fill the gap; today, given Israel’s strong support in Congress, a similarly total American arms embargo seems unlikely. As a result, France may understand what Washington seems not to: that utterly disregarding Israel’s concerns about Iran could push it to preempt despite its patron’s objections, just as it did in 1967.

This also explains why France was particularly opposed to a provision allowing Iran to continue building its heavy-water reactor in Arak. Once the reactor is finished and ready to go online, Iran could turn the switch before an attack could be mounted, so Israel is unlikely to wait until it gets to that point. Thus if the goal is to prevent an Israeli attack, halting progress at Arak is critical.

So by all means, heartfelt thanks are due the French. But a nod may also be due to the deterrent Israel has created by its proven willingness to defend itself by itself.

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Israel Likes Its U.S. Presidents Strong

The Wall Street Journal ran a symposium over the weekend about world reactions to Obama’s Syria turnaround. I wrote the contribution on Israel. Many aspects of the “turnaround,” especially the enhanced role of Russia in the Middle East, impact Israel. But I focused instead on Obama’s earlier “turnaround”: his decision to seek authorization for military action from Congress. Excerpt:

What Israelis found alarming was the way Mr. Obama shifted the burden of decision. Every one of Mr. Obama’s Syrian maneuvers was viewed as a dry run for his conduct in a likely future crisis over Iran’s nuclear drive. That’s where the stakes are highest for Israel, and that’s where Israelis sometimes question Obama’s resolve.

Israelis always imagined they would go to Mr. Obama with a crucial piece of highly sensitive intelligence on Iranian progress, and he would make good on his promise to block Iran with a swift presidential decision. So Mr. Obama’s punt to Congress over what John Kerry called an “unbelievably small” strike left Israelis rubbing their eyes. If this is now standard operating procedure in Washington, can Israel afford to wait if action against Iran becomes urgent?

Israel’s standing in Congress and U.S. public opinion is high, but the Syrian episode has shown how dead-set both are against U.S. military action in the Middle East. Israel won’t have videos of dying children to sway opinion, and it won’t be able to share its intelligence outside the Oval Office. Bottom line: The chance that Israel may need to act first against Iran has gone up.

Why was Obama’s recourse to Congress so alarming? Israel has long favored strong presidential prerogatives. That’s because the crises that have faced Israel rarely ever leave it the time to work the many halls of Congress. Israel discovered the dangers of presidential weakness in May 1967, when Israel went to President Lyndon Johnson to keep a commitment—a “red line” set by a previous administration—and Johnson balked. He insisted he would have to secure congressional support first. That show of presidential paralysis left Israel’s top diplomat shaken, and set the stage for Israel’s decision to launch a preemptive war.

2013 isn’t 1967. But Israel long ago concluded that the only thing as worrisome as a diffident America is a diffident American president—and that a president’s decision to resort to Congress, far from being a constitutional imperative, is a sign of trouble at the top.

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The Wall Street Journal ran a symposium over the weekend about world reactions to Obama’s Syria turnaround. I wrote the contribution on Israel. Many aspects of the “turnaround,” especially the enhanced role of Russia in the Middle East, impact Israel. But I focused instead on Obama’s earlier “turnaround”: his decision to seek authorization for military action from Congress. Excerpt:

What Israelis found alarming was the way Mr. Obama shifted the burden of decision. Every one of Mr. Obama’s Syrian maneuvers was viewed as a dry run for his conduct in a likely future crisis over Iran’s nuclear drive. That’s where the stakes are highest for Israel, and that’s where Israelis sometimes question Obama’s resolve.

Israelis always imagined they would go to Mr. Obama with a crucial piece of highly sensitive intelligence on Iranian progress, and he would make good on his promise to block Iran with a swift presidential decision. So Mr. Obama’s punt to Congress over what John Kerry called an “unbelievably small” strike left Israelis rubbing their eyes. If this is now standard operating procedure in Washington, can Israel afford to wait if action against Iran becomes urgent?

Israel’s standing in Congress and U.S. public opinion is high, but the Syrian episode has shown how dead-set both are against U.S. military action in the Middle East. Israel won’t have videos of dying children to sway opinion, and it won’t be able to share its intelligence outside the Oval Office. Bottom line: The chance that Israel may need to act first against Iran has gone up.

Why was Obama’s recourse to Congress so alarming? Israel has long favored strong presidential prerogatives. That’s because the crises that have faced Israel rarely ever leave it the time to work the many halls of Congress. Israel discovered the dangers of presidential weakness in May 1967, when Israel went to President Lyndon Johnson to keep a commitment—a “red line” set by a previous administration—and Johnson balked. He insisted he would have to secure congressional support first. That show of presidential paralysis left Israel’s top diplomat shaken, and set the stage for Israel’s decision to launch a preemptive war.

2013 isn’t 1967. But Israel long ago concluded that the only thing as worrisome as a diffident America is a diffident American president—and that a president’s decision to resort to Congress, far from being a constitutional imperative, is a sign of trouble at the top.

“Not worth five cents”

What did Israel want from Lyndon Johnson in May 1967? On May 22, in the midst of rising tensions across the region, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdul Nasser announced the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israel-bound ships headed for the port of Eilat, effectively blockading it. More than a decade before that, in 1956, Israel had broken a similar Egyptian blockade by invading and occupying the Sinai. Israel withdrew in 1957, partly in return for an American assurance that the United States would be “prepared to exercise the right of free and innocent passage [through the Straits] and to join with others to secure general recognition of this right.” In 1967, when Nasser reimposed Egypt’s blockade, Israel asked the United States to make good on that 1957 commitment, by leading an international flotilla through the Straits to Eilat. Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban flew to Washington and met with Johnson in the Yellow Oval Room on May 26 to make Israel’s case.

Johnson astonished Eban by pleading that he didn’t have sufficient authority to act. The U.S. memorandum of conversation summarized it this way:

President Johnson said he is of no value to Israel if he does not have the support of his Congress, the Cabinet and the people. Going ahead without this support would not be helpful to Israel…

We did not know what our Congress would do. We are fully aware of what three past Presidents have said but this is not worth five cents if the people and the Congress did not support the President…

If he were to take a precipitous decision tonight he could not be effective in helping Israel… The President knew his Congress after 30 years of experience. He said that he would try to get Congressional support; that is what he has been doing over the past days, having called a number of Congressmen. It is going reasonably well…

The President said again the Constitutional processes are basic to actions on matters involving war and peace. We are trying to bring Congress along. He said: “What I can do, I do.”

Abba Eban later gave a more devastating version of the “five-cent” quote: “What a president says and thinks is not worth five cents unless he has the people and Congress behind him. Without the Congress I’m just a six-feet-four Texan. With the Congress I’m president of the United States in the fullest sense.” According to the Israeli record of the meeting, Johnson also acknowledged that he hadn’t made his own progress on the Hill: “I can tell you at this moment I do not have one vote and one dollar for taking action before thrashing this matter out in the UN in a reasonable time.” And Johnson ultimately put the onus on Israel to get Congress on board: “Unless you people move your anatomies up on the Hill and start getting some votes, I will not be able to carry out” American commitments.

Johnson must have understood the impression he was leaving upon Eban. In the Israeli record, there are two remarkable quotes: “I’m not a feeble mouse or a coward and we’re going to try.” And: “How to take Congress with me, I’ve got my own views. I’m not an enemy or a coward. I’m going to plan and pursue vigorously every lead I can.” That Johnson twice had to insist that he wasn’t a coward suggested that he realized just how feckless he must have seemed.

In his two memoirs, Eban recalled his astonishment at this apparent abdication:

I remember being almost stunned by the frequency with which [Johnson] used the rhetoric of impotence. This ostensibly strong leader had become a paralyzed president. The Vietnam trauma had stripped him of his executive powers….

I’ve often ask myself if there was ever a president who spoke in such defeatist terms about his own competence to act…. When it came to a possibility of military action—with a risk as trivial, in relation to U.S. power, as the dispatch of an intimidatory naval force to an international waterway—he had to throw up his hands in defeat…. On a purely logistical level, this would have been one of the least hazardous operations in American history—the inhibitions derived entirely from the domestic political context. The senators consulted by Johnson were hesitant and timorous. They thought that the possibility of Soviet intervention, however unlikely, could not be totally ignored.

The revulsion of Americans from the use of their own armed forces had virtually destroyed his presidential function. I was astonished that he was not too proud to avoid these self-deprecatory statements in the presence of so many of his senior associates. I thought that I could see [Defense] Secretary McNamara and [chairman of the Joint Chiefs] General Wheeler wilt with embarrassment every time that he said how little power of action he had.

The tactical objective, the cancellation of the Eilat blockade, was limited in scope and entirely feasible. It was everything that the Vietnam war was not. Lyndon Johnson’s perceptions were sharp enough to grasp all these implications. What he lacked was “only” the authority to put them to work. Less than three years after the greatest electoral triumph in American presidential history he was like Samson shorn of his previous strength…. With every passing day the obstacles became greater and the will for action diminished. He inhabited the White House, but the presidency was effectively out of his hands.

After the meeting, Johnson wrote a letter to Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol, reemphasizing the primacy of the Congress: “As you will understand and as I explained to Mr. Eban, it would be unwise as well as most unproductive for me to act without the full consultation and backing of Congress. We are now in the process of urgently consulting the leaders of our Congress and counseling with its membership.” This was actually an improvement on the draft that had been prepared for him, and which included this sentence: “As you will understand, I cannot act at all without full backing of Congress.” (Emphasis added.) That accurately reflected the essence of the message conveyed to Eban, but Johnson was not prepared to admit his total emasculation in writing. There is a debate among historians as to whether Johnson did or didn’t signal a green light to Israel to act on its own. It finally did on June 5.

“Too big for business as usual”

In light of this history, it’s not hard to see why Israel would view any handoff by a president to the Congress in the midst of a direct challenge to a presidential commitment as a sign of weakness and an indication that Israel had better start planning to act on its own. It’s not that Israel lacks friends on the Hill. But in crises where time is short and intelligence is ambivalent—and such are the crises Israel takes to the White House—Israel needs presidents who are decisive.

In seeking congressional authorization for military action in Syria, President Obama did not negate his own authority: “I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.” But “in the absence of any direct or imminent threat to our security,” and “because the issues are too big for business as usual,” he went to the Congress, so that “the country” and “our democracy” would be stronger, and U.S. action would be “more effective.”

Views differ as to whether the precedent just set will bind Obama (or his successors) in the future. But Israel understandably has no desire to become the test case, if it should conclude that immediate action is needed to stop Iran from crossing Israel’s own “red lines.” Iran’s progress might not pose an imminent threat to U.S. security, and a U.S. use of force would definitely be “too big for business as usual.” So if those are now the criteria for taking decisions out of the Oval Office, Israel has reason to be concerned.

And they may well be the criteria. In 2007, then-Senator Obama was asked in an interview specifically about whether the president could bomb suspected nuclear sites in Iran without a congressional authorization. His answer:

Military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. [Senate Joint Resolution] 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.”

That resolution went nowhere, but it establishes a strong presumption that Obama would insist on securing Congressional authorization for the future use of force against Iran. Depending on the timing, that could put Israel in an impossible situation similar to that it faced in May 1967. Perhaps that’s why one of Israel’s most ardent supporters, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, has proposed that Obama ask Congress now to authorize the use of force against Iran. Senator Lindsey Graham has proposed just that, without waiting for Obama: “I’m not asking the president to come to us; we’re putting it on the table, because if we don’t do this soon, this mess in Syria is going to lead to a conflict between Israel and Iran.”

Whether such an authorization-in-advance is feasible is an open question. In the meantime, there’s always the very real prospect that history could do something rare: repeat itself. In 1967, Israel faced a choice between an urgent need to act and waiting for a reluctant Congress to stiffen the spine of a weakened president. Israel acted, and the consequences reverberate to this day. Faced with a similar choice in the future, it is quite likely Israel would do the same.

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Palestinians and the Hands of Time

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

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This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

As Erekat well knows there now exists a broad consensus within Israel about the desirable nature of a two-state solution.  That consensus includes Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of the members of his government. Indeed, even the Israeli right knows that if the Palestinians ever offered a complete end to the conflict and recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn they would find the majority ready to make painful territorial sacrifices. But by laying down a marker on Latrun—a place that no Israeli in his right mind would ever consider leaving—Erekat was making it clear their real priority was not peace but an effort to merely continue the conflict on more advantageous terms.

Indeed, reminding Israelis of the Israel that existed from 1949 to 1967 is not exactly the way to reassure his ostensible peace partners of the PA’s good intentions. But of course what else can you expect of a peace negotiator that has boycotted peace talks for the past four and a half years?

The actions of Erekat and his boss PA leader Mahmoud Abbas show just how much of a fool’s errand Secretary of State John Kerry has sent himself on by seeking to revive talks with the Palestinians. The PA says it will talk with Israel but only if Netanyahu promises in advance to use the armistice lines that stood until June 4, 1967 as the starting point for negotiations with the clear implication that they will accept little if any alterations to them.

Though Kerry and those American Jews who are cheering his efforts on seem to forget, Israel offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and were turned down every time. The latter offer even included a codicil from Ehud Olmert abandoning Jewish sovereignty over the Old City and the Western Wall. But even those terms were not enough to tempt Abbas to give up the conflict.

If the Palestinians were really interested in peace, they could do what President Obama asked them to do this past spring and negotiate without preconditions as Netanyahu has always been prepared to do. But since doing so would put them in a position where they might be forced to either say yes to an accord, which is unthinkable given the realities of Palestinian politics, or no, which would demonstrate that it is not the Israelis who don’t want to make peace, they will continue to find excuses to stay away from the table.

But instead of negotiating, they continue to talk about forcing the Israelis to accept the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948—something that means the end of the Jewish state and grandstanding at Latrun—which reminds Israelis of what a return to the 1967 lines would mean.

Instead of trying to move the clock ahead to a time when Palestinians will have finally rejected the politics of hate and war, Erekat and Abbas continue to appear more interested in turning it back to a moment when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank, Eastern Jerusalem or the Old City. It is no small irony that there was not only no peace when there were no settlements but also no Palestinian independence. If the PA ever truly wants a state as opposed to a never-ending conflict, the Israelis will be ready. History cannot go backward even if the Palestinians wish it could.

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Why Didn’t the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?

The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

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The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

The 1967 borders actually were not internationally recognized but merely the armistice lines that marked where the armies were standing when a cease-fire ended Israel’s War of Independence. In particular, those lines left the city of Jerusalem, which had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th century, divided. The Old City of Jerusalem, which fell during the fighting during a siege of the city conducted by Jordan’s Arab Legion, was off limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967. The Western Wall never heard Jewish prayer and was used as a garbage dump. The Jordanians paved a road through the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used some of the tombstones as construction material. A wall ran through the city much like the barrier that divided Berlin.

But those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by the Jordanians (only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized their annexation of part of the city as well as the West Bank, which got that illogical name because it differentiated it from the East Bank–which is now Jordan) did not constitute a Palestinian capital. Nor was Egyptian-occupied Gaza considered part of a Palestinian state.

What those who demand a return to the 1967 lines also forget is that Israel’s liberation of the city marked the beginning of the first period in Jerusalem’s modern history that complete religious freedom and open access to all holy sites was protected.

But the situation prior to that war did bear some resemblance to what is happening today. The territories under Jordanian and Egyptian control were used as bases for Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel and carry out terror attacks. And it was along those borders that Arab armies massed in May 1967 while their leaders repeated threats that they would drive the Jews into the sea.

Israel survived that perilous month of waiting as the world wondered whether a second Holocaust would ensue from those Arab threats by striking first and defeating its enemies. At that moment, the Jewish state ceased to be seen as a latter-day David standing up to the Goliath of an Arab world that outnumbered its forces and became the bogeyman of the international press.

As much as that dismal pre-1967 era seems like ancient history, what those who harp on 1967 ignore is that there has been no sea change in Arab opinion about Israel since then. Even in those countries like Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace treaties with Israel, the prevailing sentiment among the populace remains one of support for their neighbor’s destruction.

Until that happens and Palestinians come to terms with the permanence of the Jewish return to the land, arguing that just forcing Israel to give up the territory it won in a war of self-defense will solve the conflict is not only illogical; it’s a demand for national suicide.

For all of contemporary Jerusalem’s problems, its re-division would immeasurably worsen the quality of life there, as well as compromise open access to holy places (the only exception to that is the Temple Mount where Jews and Christians are still forbidden from praying in order to appease the Muslim religious authorities).

As Ruthie Blum wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem didn’t start a conflict that had already existed for decades, “it was precisely the pan-Arab attempt to eliminate the ‘Zionist entity’ that sparked the three-front war in the first place. And it was Israel that liberated Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation.”

As she notes, the day Jerusalem was reunited, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan issued the following statement:

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour — and with added emphasis at this hour — our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

Israel has kept its promise, but the Palestinians and most of their supporters have never come to terms with the reality or the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Peace may be possible when the Palestinians change. But let us hope Jerusalem will never again be torn apart as it was in 1948 when Arab armies invaded and that the security of Israel will never be compromised or rights to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people abrogated merely in order to recreate the dangerous situation of June 4, 1967.

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45 Years Later, No Closer to the Truth

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 …”

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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.

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On the Third Day

Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

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Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

You can listen here to the historic live broadcast of Voice of Israel Radio that day. The following is an excerpt:

Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.

[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]

[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]

[More soldiers’ footsteps.]

The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.

[Gunfire.]

We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.

[Gunfire.]

Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!

All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over. […]

Command on the army wireless: Search the area, make sure to enter every single house, but do not touch anything. Especially in holy places. […]

Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day] […]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are Thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]

Soldiers: Amen!

[Soldiers sing “Hatikva” next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel […]

While the Six-Day War is remembered for its stunning brevity, it is also worth considering this observation, from “Six Days Remembered,” Anne Lieberman’s compelling day-by-day summary of the war: “By the last of the six days Israel has achieved a stunning military victory at an equally stunning price in Israeli lives. In terms of proportion of population, Israel loses more lives in six days than the U.S. would during all the years of war in Vietnam.”

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What Six Days Achieved

Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

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Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

The belief that the Arabs can ultimately win the Six-Day War by waiting patiently until they outnumber the Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is based on the assumption that the status quo is untenable and must inevitably be replaced by either a two-state solution or the transformation of Israel into an Arab majority country. But that idea that Israel must choose now between the two is mistaken.

Goldberg is right that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no wish to rule over millions of Palestinians. But the roadblock to peace that would create a two-state solution has never been the settlements. It has been, as Goldberg acknowledges, the Palestinians’ rejection of peace offers that would have given them independence in most of the territories in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and their refusal to even restart negotiations. In the absence of a sea change in Palestinian political culture that would allow them to live in peace alongside a Jewish state, peace is impossible.

As unpleasant as the status quo is for Israel, it is preferable to a return to the situation of June 1967 when Israel was, despite its underdog status, no closer to universal popularity than it is today. The assumption that it must lead inevitably to a one-state solution is foolish simply because there is no mechanism by which Israel will ever allow itself to be voted out of existence by the Palestinians. Nor is it a given that such an Arab majority will ever exist. What Israel must and can do is what it has been doing for 45 years: waiting for the Arabs to come to their senses and give up a notion of Palestinian nationalism that is rooted in negation of Zionism. That was only made possible by military victory.

The achievements of 1967 are by no means impermanent even if it led to a situation in the West Bank that is not optimal. In the wake of that war, Israel got the strategic depth as well as the confidence to survive even while it was besieged by hostile neighbors while the world looked on with indifference.

The victory won in those days also altered the relationship between Israel and the United States. It set in motion a process that has forged a strategic alliance between the two countries that is now a permanent fact in the Middle East that no amount of Arab or Muslim hatred or European hostility can erase.

What was at stake in those six days wasn’t a matter of perceptions or demography but simple survival as Arab armies massed to attempt to reverse the verdict of the 1948-49 War of Independence. What followed was a changed and often problematic new world but one that ensured Israel would not be erased, as many feared it would in the weeks before the shooting started. In winning the war with what seemed to be miraculous speed, the conflict wasn’t ended, but it was changed to one that could be managed from a position of Israeli strength.

Part of the problem with grasping this reality is the difficulty of recalling not only how dire Israel’s strategic situation was on June 5, 1967, but also how precarious its hold on the world’s sympathy was then. Jewish Ideas Daily is performing a valuable service to the public with a week-long attempt to provide perspective on the war’s anniversary, with daily summaries for both the prelude to the war and each day that provide insights on the situation then as well as subsequent evaluation. For those who have forgotten as well as those who assume that victory was inevitable or can be erased, it provides a good starting point.

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Today in Jerusalem, Israel

Today is the 45th Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, Israel – the annual commemoration on the 28th of Iyar, the anniversary of the Six-Day War on the Hebrew calendar, when Israel liberated the eastern part of the city from Jordanian occupation. It is also worth recalling a little history on this day.

After the defeat of Turkey in World War I, President Wilson received a 1919 report from two American commissioners to the Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. The commissioners wrote that they “doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places”:

The places which are most sacred to Christians — those having to do with Jesus — and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them … [T]he Moslems, just because the sacred places of all three religions are sacred to them have made very naturally much more satisfactory custodians of the holy places than the Jews could be.

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Today is the 45th Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, Israel – the annual commemoration on the 28th of Iyar, the anniversary of the Six-Day War on the Hebrew calendar, when Israel liberated the eastern part of the city from Jordanian occupation. It is also worth recalling a little history on this day.

After the defeat of Turkey in World War I, President Wilson received a 1919 report from two American commissioners to the Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. The commissioners wrote that they “doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places”:

The places which are most sacred to Christians — those having to do with Jesus — and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them … [T]he Moslems, just because the sacred places of all three religions are sacred to them have made very naturally much more satisfactory custodians of the holy places than the Jews could be.

Wilson ignored the report, and the subsequent Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations and backed by the United States recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and the “grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Since 1948, when the State of Israel was re-established, we have had the opportunity to see who has been a “satisfactory custodian” of the holy places, and who was not. When the British Mandate expired in 1948, Jordan illegally occupied the Old City of Jerusalem and proceeded immediately to destroy or desecrate the Jewish presence within it. In the 45 years since the Six-Day War, Israel has protected the holy sites of all three major religions.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has produced a four-minute video that demonstrates the re-division of Jerusalem is technically impossible, is both unnecessary and dangerous, and is opposed by a majority of the city’s residents — both Jews and Arabs. The city has grown dramatically and changed during the nearly half-century since the Six-Day War, and nearly half a million Arabs and Jews (270,000 Arabs and 200,000 Jews) now live in the mosaic of neighborhoods called “East Jerusalem,” intermingled not only in terms of populations and neighborhoods, but vital infrastructures.

This might also be a good day to read Anne Lieberman’s “Six Days Remembered,” her compelling day-by-day summary of the Arab movements in May and June 1967 to prepare to extinguish the 19-year-old Jewish state, which resulted instead in the re-unification of Israel’s capital. Its eternal, undivided capital.

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