Six Days and Forty Years

Categories: Israel
By Yigal Tzachor

Forty years represents more than two thirds of the life of the State of Israel. These are years that have seen dramatic events which have pulled Israeli society in different and often opposing directions. As is customary in these parts, there are diverse interpretations of each of the significant events in our history, ranging from pessimistic to optimistic. The definitions of Right and Left as understood in Israeli society 40 years ago have almost vanished. Just look for any resemblance between Shimon Peres’ stance of 40 years ago, when he was a member of the Rafi party, or the Minister of Defense in Rabin’s first government and assisted in establishing the settlements in the Territories, first and foremost Sebastia, and his current viewpoint. It’s doubtful whether you will find any similarity at all.

Nor is there any similarity between the stance of Arik Sharon who was the founding father of the settlements in the Territories for 35 years, and his viewpoint during the disengagement from Gaza. The individual who best personifies this intellectual revolution was Prime Minister Menahem Begin, the champion par excellence of “not a single inch”, who nonetheless withdrew from the entire Sinai down to the last pebble in order to obtain a peace agreement with Egypt. (At the same time, Begin’s position on the West Bank probably did not change.) Yet the Camp David Accords, signed by Menachem Begin, formed the basis for a future Palestinian State.

The change in political viewpoints arose from the differences between the two wars, 1967 and 1973, which generated radically divergent responses in Israeli society. The Six Day War was initiated by Israel. Its amazing military results in the three battle zones led Israeli soldiers to wade in the waters of the Suez Canal, to bathe at the beaches of Sharm-el-Sheikh, to view Syria from atop Mt. Hermon, and to dip into the Jordan River on the West Bank’s eastern edge. The people of Israel and the entire Jewish world believed that the State of Israel was a great superpower. Israeli generals paraded about in world’s salons as symbols of Jewish heroism in the modern age, while the warning voices of Yehoshafat Harkabi, Matti Peled and the cries of Lova Eliav in “Land of the Hart” were considered hallucinatory.

The height of presumption was the statement of the Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who on the eve of Rosh Hashana in 1973 declared from above the hilltops of the Golan Heights: “Our situation has never been better.” The Yom Kippur War in 1973 destroyed the widely-held worldview on Israel and the Arab states, but it did not prevent the settling of Sebastia, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida. In spite of the fact that virtually all Israelis understood the limits of power, we did not forgo establishing settlements in the heart of Arab population centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And out of sheer stupidity and arrogance we invaded Lebanon in order to design a new and improved Middle East.

Tired of the ideological struggle, the Labor Party became immersed in personal vendettas, preferring to be a partner in government and part of the ruling authority that distributes the State’s budget according to the wishes of the Right and the religious parties. This is how the settlements gained traction in the Territories. The Negev and the Galilee received negligible budgets and the social agenda fell by the wayside. After the Six Day War, the Israeli Left could have adopted the political and social ideas of Lova Eliav. Instead it opted for the Galili plan for Jewish settlement in the Territories. The Kibbutz movement embraced the “Greater Land of Israel.” Ben-Gurion screamed from the political desert but nobody took heed of his warnings.
The Israeli public found it difficult to distinguish between Golda, Allon and Galili and the Right. Thus the people decided in favor of the right wing parties for many fateful years. The public simply preferred the original to the imitation.

Today, forty years later we have become stuck in a cul de sac without any boundaries. Within this period, the internal struggles in Kosovo, Chechnya, South Africa, and Northern Ireland have ended or moved towards resolution, while we are still wallowing in the mire of the Territories. Jerusalem remains at the heart of the dispute between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. We lack the courage to enter negotiations with the Syrians over the Golan Heights, in the shadow of the Iranian nuclear threat.

Today more than ever, we need a courageous leadership to establish a political agenda with goals to strengthen the State of Israel and provide a worthy political solution for the Palestinians.

In less than two decades, the Palestinians will be the majority between Jordan and the Mediterranean. The Bedouin will comprise nearly half the population of the Negev while the Galilee will be mostly Arab. The current leadership in Israel is weak and unsuited to the responsibility of making momentous decisions. It is currently on its last legs just like the government that failed during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The State of Israel’s 60th year must be the turning point, setting Israel’s ship of state on the correct course, reclaiming faith in peace as the only option that will bring relative calm to our region.

About Yigal Tzachor

Yigal Tzahor is Chairman of the World Labor Zionist Movement and Manager of the Ideological-Educational Center at the Berl Katzenelson Foundation in Israel.
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