Six Days, and 38 Junes Later, the Time Has Come to Get Out


In the years immediately following the Six-Day War of June 1967, Israelis and Israel's supporters worldwide celebrated the IDF's victory without any ambivalence whatsoever.

Israel's pre-emptive attack had deterred a combined Egyptian and Syrian onslaught against the Jewish state that might have destroyed it.

For those of us who remember the anxiety of May 1967, Israel's victory will always be celebrated, but no longer without ambivalence.

It was, after all, the Six-Day triumph that produced Israeli control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (in addition to eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula). And today, 38 Junes later, most of Israel's problems stem from its continued retention of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel never planned on taking those areas.

But in the immediate aftermath of the war, it appeared that the territorial depth provided by them would contribute significantly to Israel's security. Israel was no longer a mere 8 miles wide at its "waist," and buffer zones on all its borders would seemingly reduce the danger to its population.

It didn't turn out that way.

The first indication that more territory did not mean more security came in the most horrific way possible with the October 1973 attack on Israel.

It was, in part, the realization that the Sinai (four times the size of Israel itself) was not a buffer that led Prime Minister Menachem Begin to agree to give it back to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty. Despite all the rhetoric from politicians that Israel would never give up the Sinai, it did – every inch of it – in exchange for a treaty that has maintained peace between Israel and Egypt for more than a quarter of a century.

It was, to say the least, a very good deal.

Again, after the '67 war, there was much celebration of the fact that Israeli cities were no longer within sniper range of Jordanian and Syrian positions, and that the pre-'67 reign of terror was now halted.

In retrospect, of course, it's clear that the terror threat prior to the Six-Day War was relatively minor. In fact, according to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Web site, in the 10 years leading up to the war, the number of Israelis (civilians and soldiers) killed by Arab armies or terrorists was exactly 38. Thirty-eight in an entire decade.

The surge in terrorism came with the occupation.

There was, of course, a period since 1967 that was, like the 1957-1967 decade, relatively terror-free. Between September 1997 and the collapse of the Oslo process in the late fall of 2000, just seven people were killed by terrorists in Israel. This was not because terrorists did not try to launch attacks; it's because the Palestinian Authority worked closely with the Israeli military to thwart those attacks, even tipping the Israelis off in advance of them.

As a result, Israel, in the period just prior to Oslo's end, had achieved pre-1967 levels of security. That period of promise came to an end in the fall of 2000 with the outbreak of the second intifada. In contrast to the seven Israelis killed in the previous three years, the number who would be killed in the next 41?2 years would be 1,061.

History's lesson could not be clearer. The territories, in and of themselves, do not add to Israel's security. But they can when used as a bargaining chip to exchange for security.

Indeed, the Sinai Peninsula did not enhance Israel's security until Israel exchanged it for a peace treaty.

Israel is leaving Gaza unilaterally – which means in exchange for "nothing" (except, of course, the incalculable benefit of no longer losing soldiers in defense of the Gaza settlements).

But the next steps need to be fully coordinated with the Palestinians. Israel's goal must not be merely getting out – although getting out is certainly preferable to staying in – but achieving the kind of agreement with the Palestinians that it has with the Egyptians: a full binding agreement that guarantees the security of both peoples.


M.J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum.



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