How Do You Find Peace With An Enemy Who Wants You Destroyed?
By David H. Landon
Last week President Obama, whose anti-Israeli bias becomes clearer every day, called on Israel’s government to restart peace talks with the Palestinians by agreeing to pull back its borders to the pre-1967 Six Day War lines, with what he has called mutually-agreed swaps of land. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to respond, calling Israel’s pre-1967 borders “indefensible” and deemed the president’s suggestion a non-starter. A history review of how Israel ended up occupying these occupied territories might be helpful.
In early June, 1967, Egypt had massed approximately 100,000 of its 160,000 troops in the Sinai Peninsula, along the Israeli border. These Egyptian forces had 950 tanks, 1,100 APCs and more than 1,000 artillery pieces. To the north, Syria’s army had a total strength of 75,000 and was amassed along the Syrian/Israeli border in the Golan Heights. To the east of Israel, in the West Bank, Jordan’s army amassed 55,000 troops, including 300 tanks, along the Jordanian/Israeli border, and another 100 Iraqi tanks and an Iraqi infantry division was readied in reserve. On June 2, 1967, Jordan called up all reserve officers. In the West Bank, the Jordanian army commander met with community leaders in Ramallah to request assistance and cooperation for his troops during the war. The community officials were assured that “in three days, we’ll be in Tel-Aviv.” Israel was about to be invaded by armies of three of its Arab neighbors.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched a pre-emptive strike, which was named Operation Focus. A force of nearly 200 of Israel’s jets entered Egyptian air space in a mass attack against Egypt’s airfields. The attack was wildly successful, catching the Egyptians by surprise and destroying virtually all of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. Only a few Israeli aircraft were lost. A total of 338 Egyptian aircraft were destroyed and 100 pilots were killed. The attack guaranteed Israeli air superiority for the rest of the war. Subsequent attacks against Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi fields destroyed most of their air forces. After achieving air superiority, over the next five days the Israeli Army pushed the Egyptian Army out of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, the Jordanian Army out of the West Bank and Syrian forces out of the Golan Heights.
On June 11, 1967, a ceasefire was signed. Israel’s territory grew by a factor of three, including about one million Arabs placed under Israel’s direct control in the newly captured territories. Of the approximately one million Palestinians in the West Bank at the time of the war, 300,000 fled to Jordan, where over time they contributed to the growing unrest there. Eventually, the King of Jordan forced them out and into southern Lebanon where many remain today.
After Israel acquired these new “territories,” a large settlement effort was launched to secure Israel’s permanent foothold. As a result, there are now hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in these territories. There have been efforts at “land for peace” accords. Israel returned the Sinai Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1978, after the Camp David Accords and up until now has remained at peace with Egypt. Israel also disengaged from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 in a “land for peace” initiative with the Palestinians. That concession has led to Gaza becoming a haven for Hamas and the site of frequent rocket attacks into Israel. But there is no question that the remaining pre-1967 war territories are the ongoing source of agitation in the region and used as justification by Muslim extremists for every outrageous act of terror undertaken in the world.
The peace process has been further complicated by the recent power-sharing reconciliation by Palestinian President Abbas whose organization controls the West Bank territories and Hamas, a terror organization located in Gaza whose stated purpose is the destruction of Israel. These two former rivals have come together in anticipation of next October’s vote in the U.N. to create a Palestinian state. That vote will increase international pressure on Israel to give away territory to the new Palestinian state.
The question now for Israel is how to move forward toward an agreement with Palestinians. Netanyahu said he’s ready to make “painful compromises” to get peace. He suggested those compromises would include giving up parts of the ancestral Israeli homeland. There are now Israeli settlements with thousands of Israelis on the West Bank; Netanyahu indicated they would fall outside Israel’s final borders. Before this process can move forward, there has to be a recognition from the Palestinians that Israel has the right to exist. This is the reason there has been no success at reaching peace with the Palestinians and no agreement on a Palestinian state: the failure of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
There is perhaps an even bigger issue separating the parties. President Obama’s speech last week failed to even mention the issue of “right of return” claimed by the people who claim to be descendants of the Palestinians displaced by the formation of Israel. It is one of the demands that Palestinian leaders have refused to negotiate. If all of the Palestinians and their descendants displaced by the formation of Israel were permitted to return, their total population would almost immediately outnumber the Israeli population. Agreeing to the “right of return” would signal the end of Israel.
Israel has survived against all odds during the last 63 years by speaking plainly to her enemies and understanding who are her friends. President Obama has just complicated the “understanding who her friends are” part of the equation.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@daytoncitypaper.com