Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the country and her citizens have endured incessant militant attacks and threats from her Arab neighbors with the intent to destroy and annihilate Israel and the Jewish people. The refusal of Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize her legitimacy and sovereignty has been the prime reason for the inability to maintain lasting peace in the region.
The goal of this page is to shed some much needed light onto the 1967 borders and the Six-Day War and the negotiation process Israel is forced to make with her Palestinian neighbors in hopes of reaching peace. Specific attention focuses on the 1967 borders, the Six-Day War, the West Bank and the proposed two-state solution process.
Six-Day War: The looming threat
In the mid-1960s, the goal of the Arab states was to destroy Israel. Syria used the 3,000-foot-high Golan Heights, which overlooks northern Israel, to shell Israeli farms and towns. Throughout 1965 and 1966, Syria’s attacks on Israel increased. Egyptian President Nasser’s rhetoric also became more bellicose: “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand. We shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.”
In response to the Syrian incursions, Israeli jets shot down six Syrian fighter jets on April 7, 1967. Soon afterward the Soviet Union deliberately misinformed its ally Syria about a massive Israeli military buildup; Syria in turn invoked its defense treaty with Egypt. On May 15, 1967 some 100,000 Egyptian troops moved into the Sinai and amassed near Israel’s border. A few days later, Syrian troops prepared for battle along the Golan Heights.
On May 22, Egypt unilaterally closed the Strait of Tiran, which is on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This closure effectively cut off Israel’s only trade route with Asia and stopped the flow of oil from its main supplier, Iran. This closure of international waters was an act of war according to international law.
On May 30, Jordan’s King Hussein signed a defense pact with Egypt. And on June 4, Iraq joined the military alliance with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Nearly 250,000 Arab troops, more than 2,000 tanks and 700 aircraft were arrayed in battle formation along Israel’s borders. Arab leaders openly declared their intentions of militarily destroying Israel.
The combined Arab armies were in a position to strike Israel from the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip: an Arab first strike risked severing Israel at its narrowest point, which was only nine miles wide. The Egyptian army, striking from Gaza, could cut off Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, while the Jordanian army surrounded western Jerusalem on three sides. The situation for Israel was dire, as Israel’s reserves – the backbone of the Israeli army – had been mobilized for three weeks, thus bringing Israel’s economy to a standstill.
Israel’s pre-emptive strike
After fruitless political efforts at the United Nations, and despite the best efforts of the United States to find a diplomatic solution, as a matter of self-defense and survival, Israel preemptively attacked Egypt on June 5, 1967.
The United States imposed an arms embargo on the entire region. France, Israel’s other main arms supplier, also embargoed arms to Israel. Meanwhile, the Soviets continued to supply massive amounts of arms to the Arab states. Israel’s strategy was to win the war as quickly as possible.
In only six days of combat, Israeli troops demolished enemy forces in the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. The international community called for a cease-fire on June 10 just as Israel was in position to bring the battle to the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian capitals. Israel gained control of the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.
After the 1967 Six-Day War
In the aftermath, Israel offered to exchange the newly acquired territories (with its 750,000 Palestinian inhabitants) for peace with the Arab states. Moshe Dayan famously said, Jerusalem was waiting only for a telephone call from Arab leaders to start negotiations.
The Arab states, however, were not remotely interested in peace. In the fall of 1967, eight Arab heads of state attended a meeting in Khartoum. At this summit, Arab leaders reached a consensus on their relationship with Israel: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel. A few months after the 1967 meeting in Khartoum, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242. (See below.) This resolution established the principles that have continued to guide Arab-Israeli negotiations. The ultimate goal of 242 was the achievement of a “peaceful and accepted settlement.” This means a negotiated agreement based on the resolution’s principles rather than one imposed upon the parties.
At its core, Resolution 242 calls for a “just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.” The phrase “every State in the area” includes Israel. Resolution 242 affirms that fulfilling Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East that includes the following principles:
“(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Significantly, the language used in the first principle lacks the direct article “the” before the word “territories.” Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from “the territories,” only from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war. This indicates the desire of the resolution’s drafters to see negotiations leading to a “just and lasting” peace based on the second principle, which calls upon the Arab states to terminate their state of war against Israel.
Thus the “land for peace” formula governing all Israeli-Arab peace efforts was born. Israel accepts Resolution 242 as the basis for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and Arab states.
This video offers a simple explanation of the West Bank: