Middle East in Focus
More than fifty years since the end of the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the prospects for a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel seem as remote as ever. Worse, as Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu insists on the outright annexation of much of that territory, both Israelis and Palestinians are coming to the difficult realization that the prospects for peace may have been just an illusion. It is not surprising then that this disillusionment with the failure of the peace process to deliver a viable Palestinian state has led some to lose faith in the whole process and begin looking for alternatives.
Reflecting on the impact of the 1967 war on Israel’s political landscape as well as the hardening of the Israeli voters’ preferences in favor of holding on to the territorial gains in the aftermath of the war, The Jerusalem Post’s Susan Rolef wonders whether Israel’s success was a Pyrrhic victory: “I have tried to think how I would have felt had I known back in June 1967 that 53 years later we would still be far removed from a settlement of the conflict, not to mention the fact that a majority in Israel apparently no longer views a settlement as a national goal. I am sure that my feelings of euphoria and enthusiastic patriotism in those days would have been somewhat dimmed. However, the memory of those days in June 1967, when I was still young and optimistic, is sweet, while the current reality is rather bitter.”
Yair Golan, writing for Times of Israel, expresses a similarly conflicted view, suggesting that the 1967 war’s legacy in Israel is a complicated one, while for the Palestinians it compounded their tragedy: “Our presence in the territories, which was originally intended to be short-term, and to serve as a strong bargaining chip, turned into a long-term occupation. In 1968, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol talked about returning the territories, once negotiations with Arab states ripened, but that day never came.... The war represents a breaking point in the Palestinian experience. It ended their trust in Arab states, birthing a new ethos of self-reliance.... The legacy of the Six Day War and the military victory that it was, looms large today. Whether we categorize those as an asset or a liability in terms of Israel’s long-term future, depends on how we affix policy in the territories today.”
Meanwhile, Israeli observer Jeff Dunetz betrays no such ambivalence. In a recent op-ed for the Arutz Sheva, Dunetz pushes back against those who argue in favor of withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, singling out in particular Jordan and the European Union for “pointing to UN Resolution 242, claiming that it states Israel has to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. But that’s not what the Resolution says... The resolution actually says that ‘Israel should withdraw from territories’ taken during the war (no “the”). If it included that “the,” the resolution would mean all territories. It was no accident “the” was left out. Diplomats are very exact in their language. During the negotiations to create resolution 242, Arab governments tried three times to have “the” inserted into the resolution, and their request was rejected.”
From the Palestinian perspective, reflection on the post-1967 war reality reveals a different set of lessons and principles, foremost among them being that Israel has never been serious about a peace deal with the Palestinians. Instead, as Daily Sabah’s Najla Shahwan points out, “The Israeli perspective considers normalization as a basic strategic goal and encourages cooperation with Arab countries in various fields, especially in economics, politics and people-to-people contact. The Israelis' aim is to achieve normal multidimensional relations with Arab countries before, or even without, resolving the main issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.... Normalization without justice was for years the Israeli goal, thinking that it will allow for more Jewish immigration to Israel, and will pave the way for more settlements and a Palestinian land grab.”
Daoud Kuttab comes to a similar conclusion in a recent op-ed for Arab News, noting that the Palestinians ‘must learn lessons’ from the history of failed negotiations with Israel, referring then to a statement by Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin according to whom “the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause. ‘We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community’."
What exactly that new path that one must take is not very clear, although judging from this Al Jazeera op-ed by Haidar Eid, one possibility may include doing away altogether with the Oslo process and move toward a one-state solution: “As Israel moves towards annexing 30 percent of the occupied West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's protege and successor, has started issuing another round of empty threats. On May 19, he declared an end to security cooperation and accords with Israel and the United States. This is seen as declaring the end of the dream of having an ‘independent’ Palestinian state on 22 percent of historic Palestine. It is the realization of this dream that pro-Oslo intellectuals elevated as the ultimate goal justifying the heavy price the Palestinians have been paying.... It is high time that the Palestinian people move away from the illusion of the two-state solution and try a democratic approach, one that can guarantee their basic rights - freedom, equality, and justice.”
Finally, with the US presidential elections on the horizon and presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden leading US president Donald Trump in most polls, one could suggest that the Palestinians perhaps display patience for just a bit longer. However, if Ramzy Baroud’s Gulf News op-ed is any indication, few in the region expect things to improve, since according to Baroud: “[i]f the former vice president is to be elected to the White House come November, he is likely to carry on with pro-Israel policies. In fact, as destructively biased as Donald Trump has been in his support for Israel’s colonial policies in occupied Palestine, Biden might still be worse, for one simple reason: Trump’s policies are driven by pure interests, while Biden’s by decades-long ideological affinity with Zionism.”