After the Six-Day War

After the Six-Day War

Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War inaugurated a period of security, euphoria, and economic growth and prosperity in Israel. The Six-Day War substantially modified the content of the issues central to the Arab-Israeli dispute. The realities of Arab hostility, the nature of the Arab threat, and the difficulties of achieving a settlement became more obvious.

The issues of the conflict changed with the extent of the Israeli victory: Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel adopted the position that it would not withdraw from those territories until there were negotiations with the Arab states leading to peace agreements that recognized Israel’s right to exist and accepted Israel’s permanent position and borders. U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson supported this policy.

On November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which called for peace between Israel and the Arabs and for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied in the conflict. The British-sponsored resolution was left deliberately vague to allow the negotiators to seek compromise among the parties on the exact content of a settlement.

In the deliberations preceding the adoption of the resolution, the Soviet Union and the Arab states sought to secure total Israeli withdrawal from the territories they had taken in the hostilities. The United States, Great Britain, and Israel, however, sought, and achieved, a resolution that was somewhat imprecise and called for Israeli withdrawal to negotiated lines but not necessarily to the armistice lines that existed on the day before the hostilities began.

Thus, Resolution 242 calls only for “withdrawal from territories,” not “the territories,” that is, Israeli withdrawal from some of the newly occupied territories to negotiated final borders. The resolution also contains no mention of the Palestinians, per se, although several of the elements refer to them. Finally, on the matter of refugees, the resolution simply called for a “just settlement of the refugee problem” without indicating which refugees were intended nor what “just” would entail.

Resolution 242 established the mandate and the framework for a mission entrusted to Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, the purpose of which was to achieve a working arrangement that would lead to an ArabIsraeli settlement. At the time of his appointment Jarring was serving as ambassador of Sweden to the Soviet Union.

Foreign Minister Abba Eban articulated Israel’s position at the United Nations. He rejected the idea that the status quo ante could be restored and suggested that the time had come for the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel and to live in peace with it: “The Middle East, tired of wars, is ripe for a new emergence of human vitality. Let the opportunity not fall again from our hands.”

The Six-Day War of 1967 was of such magnitude and character that it brought into being conditions vastly different than those prevailing before the conflict; those new conditions had a clear and far-reaching effect on Israel’s political system and its economic and social infrastructure.

The war increased Israel’s territorial size and improved its defense posture by providing Israel, for the first time, with “strategic depth,” or a buffer zone. It also significantly affected politics in the Arab states and the course of inter-Arab relations.

The euphoria in Israel that followed the termination of hostilities combined with, and in part resulting from, the extent of changes wrought by the war led many to suggest that peace between Israel and the Arab states might be attainable. This was an important factor in the changed U.S. approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict in which, since 1967, it has actively sought the achievement of peace.

The congruence of U.S. and Israeli policies toward achieving peace contrasted sharply with the Arab and Soviet view widely expressed at conferences and meetings, such as the Arab League’s Khartoum summit (August 29–September 1, 1967). At that conference the Arab heads of state reassessed the Arab position in the wake of the debacle of the Six-Day War.

Overall, the main focus of the conference was negative: The leaders pledged joint military, political, and diplomatic activity to achieve Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory and articulated the “three no’s” in which they pledged “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with it” while seeking to secure the rights of the Palestinians.

The Arab refusal to negotiate with Israel, the activities of the Palestinian terrorist and guerrilla groups, and the hostilities between Israel and the Arabs that followed the war quickly diminished the prospects for a dramatic change in the Arab-Israeli relationship and continued to focus the attention of most Israelis on “war and peace” rather than on domestic economic and social issues.

Domestic Factors and Political Consensus

Israel’s domestic problems receded from the forefront of public attention and of governmental concern, planning, and expenditure. The focus on national defense was ensured by continued Arab hostility and by the improvement of economic and social conditions in Israel following the war. Shortly thereafter, the recession that had characterized the economy before the war became an economic boom, with full employment. Building construction developed rapidly and exports grew.

The slackening immigration rate reversed itself. The demand for foreign currency (especially U.S. dollars) for military equipment was positively assisted by the increasing influx of tourists and an increase in contributions from world Jewry. Israel’s lifestyle materially improved, and increased prosperity characterized the postconflict period.

National security considerations had a catalytic effect on domestic politics and the political consensus. The crisis of May 1967 and the war in June helped to coalesce Israeli thinking (particularly about the danger of the situation) and to draw Israel’s political factions closer together despite diverse political ideologies and contending politicians.

The crisis was ultimately confronted by a national unity government (NUG), a specially created coalition of all political parties but Israel’s two communist parties, which survived the vicissitudes of political life until the withdrawal of Menachem Begin’s Gahal bloc in summer 1970.

The NUG was united on the need for peace and security, the concept of danger and threat, and the view that a return to the pre–June 5, 1967, armistice lines was unacceptable. The basic government position was that peace had to be achieved through direct negotiations with the Arabs and that captured Arab territory should not be relinquished until that time.

The period of stress fostered the merger and alliance of the major left-of-center socialist political parties, which had been political rivals of some intensity despite the relative similarity of their positions on most issues. The desirability of cooperation to present a united front concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict contributed to the creation of a climate suitable for the consummation of the merger.

On January 21, 1968, Mapai, which had been the predominant political party in Israel and was the major political force in the preindependence Jewish quasi-government in mandatary Palestine, merged with two other labor parties—Ahdut Ha’avodah–Poalei Zion (the United Labor–Workers of Zion) and Rafi (Israel Labor List)—to form the Israel Labor Party (Mifleget Ha’avodah HaIsraelit).

In November 1968, Labor and Mapam, a socialist Zionist workers’ party, submitted a joint list of candidates for the 1969 Knesset elections. The Labor-Mapam Alignment, like the formation of the national unity government in 1967, did not eliminate differences among the politicians or their parties but rather shifted the quarrels to the intragovernmental and intraparty spheres.

Despite the merger of the three major left-of-center socialist labor parties, coalition governments remained an essential part of the Israeli political dynamic. In such a situation, political leadership and succession became important factors.

Prime Minister Golda Meir, who took office in March 1969 following the death of Eshkol, continued to maintain firm control over the political reins, but she indicated that her retirement was not too far in the future.

War of Attrition

At the end of the Six-Day War, Israeli troops were situated on the east bank of the Suez Canal and were occupying a large portion of Egyptian territory: the Sinai Peninsula and the formerly Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. France adopted an arms embargo against Israel, reversing its role as Israel’s main arms supplier. U.S. Phantom jets began to replace French-supplied Mirage aircraft.

In spring 1969, Nasser launched the War of Attrition, shelling targets along the canal. Israeli casualties soon mounted, and Israel constructed the Bar-Lev line (a defensive system of fortifications and strong points) along the Suez Canal. After the arrival of the Phantom jets in fall 1969, Israel began to launch deep penetration air raids into Egypt.

Soon after the Israeli raids began, Nasser went to Moscow where he requested and received Soviet aid and support including surface-to-air (SAM) missiles, other advanced equipment, pledges of training for the Egyptian military, and assistance by Soviet troops and pilots. By June 1970, the situation had significantly escalated. Israeli pilots shot down a number of Egyptian aircraft flown by Soviet pilots over the Suez Canal Zone.