On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive war against the combined militaries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. Within six days, the Israeli Defense Forces had scored a decisive military victory. The Arabs lost East Jerusalem, containing the third holiest shrine of Islam, in addition to losing the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai.
In November 1967, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242. This laid out two primary conditions for the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. First, it called for the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Second, it called for the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment 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.”
Israel did not withdraw from the occupied territories. The Six Day War led to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and Israel ultimately made peace with Egypt and returned the Sinai. It also made peace with Jordan, but did not return East Jerusalem. To this day, Israeli occupation of this holy site continues to fuel strong resentment against Israel in the entire Muslim world. It remains a key impediment to the establishment of peace in the Middle East.
An entire generation of Palestinians has grown up in the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli occupation. Seeing no hope for their future, some of them have resorted to carrying out suicide bombings since September 2000. The bombings have killed hundreds of Israelis and brought on Israeli retaliation, killing thousands of Palestinians. This cycle of violence shows no signs of letting up, even after President Bush’s landmark visit to the region.
In accepting the Roadmap put forth by the White House, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conceded that Israel couldn’t indefinitely continue to hold millions of Palestinians under occupation. Many regarded this as a breakthrough, since “occupation” was a word that had thus far only been used by Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace block. Sharon also acknowledged that the time had come for Israelis to accept the reality of Palestinian statehood. However, peace will only be achieved if he matches his words with deeds.
So far there has been no evidence of his sincerity. Yesterday’s pre-emptive attacks in Gaza by Israel against Dr. Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, the number two man in Hamas, will weaken the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas who had promised to put an end to terrorism in the Aqaba Agreement. President Bush publicly rebuked Israel, “The attacks will make it more difficult for Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don’t believe the attacks helped Israeli security.” However, Israel offered no apology for its action, and seemed determined to carry out missile and other attacks against militant Palestinians, who it considers to be “ticking time bombs.”
The strategic myopia of this policy should be evident by now. Israel has learned that it cannot eliminate terrorism by killing the terrorists. For every one that is killed, another two are created. After the latest attack, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, declared there would be a violent response. “The Israelis have sent a message,” he said. “Now they have to wait for our reply. Our answer will be of the same caliber. The Israelis don’t want peace. They only want to humiliate the Palestinians.”
The time calls for boldness and courage on the part of the Israeli leadership. The Arab states pose no credible military threat to Israel. The best defense against the suicide bombers is to take away their rallying cry, which is the illegitimacy of Israeli occupation. Israel should declare a unilateral cease-fire with the Palestinians, and stop carrying out attacks against the militants. Ultimately, it should withdraw from all remaining occupied territories and eliminate the illegal settlements from the West Bank, as it committed to doing during the Oslo Accords of 1993. It should also release the 9,000 Palestinians who are being held in Israeli jails and detention centers. So far, only 200 have been released.
These actions will bring legitimacy to Israel in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Only then will it acquire the peace and security that has eluded it since its decisive military victory 36 years ago.