The West Bank: What Happened after the Six Day War

            October/November 2012    
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Book Review

By Jay Levinson

The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War
by Avi Raz
New Haven and London: Yale University Press (2012)
ISBN: 978-0-300-17194-5

In 1967 Israel achieved an astonishing rout of Arab armies. It won the war, but peace was not achieved. The days when the victor could dictate terms to the vanquished were over, and no mutually agreeable peace formula could be found. The war brought victory on the ground, but otherwise it failed in a more long-term goal. It did not bring peace. Why? This book tries to bring better understanding to what might well be called, “Peace Lost.”

In many circles the decades-long conflict over ownership and rights in post-Mandate Palestine has been called the Arab-Israeli Conflict. As Avi Raz clearly shows, there has been no one Israeli position, nor has there been Arab unity in searching for a solution to the recurrent confrontations. There have also been significant revisions of positions as time passes, and new ideas gain popularity. This is particularly true in the aftermath of the Six Day War.

Raz conducted extensive research, which is very well documented. What did Israel want in the weeks and months following the June war? As Raz postulates, the picture is not at all clear. In the unity government that had been formed there were extremes ranging from the victor takes all to withdrawal from almost all conquered territory. Levi Eshkol, then prime minister, realized the divisive nature of the issue, and “decided not to decide” upon an overall policy.

The basic picture as Raz explains was choosing between a West Bank “Palestinian” option for a peace settlement, and an East Bank “Jordanian” option. If Raz is correct in his analysis, playing one option against the other was a general Israeli tactic to stall for time and maintain the status quo of Greater Israel. A very similar hypothesis is that Israel did not really know what she wanted, hence there was no way to make progress on peace.

There were nuances regarding options. If the Palestinian answer was to be pursued, should there be a state? Or a canton? Or an autonomous entity? One anomaly was that even though some key politicians favoured this approach, government policy thwarted any effort for West Bank Arabs to organize politically. Without that organization there was no possibility of developing any real West Bank Palestinian option.

In numerous places in the book Raz explains that King Hussein genuinely wanted peace with Israel, a goal he had tried to realize through secret negotiations as early as 1963. “The historical evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Israeli leadership was in no doubt that the king desired an honorable peace settlement, that he waslling to negotiate with Israel directly, and that he expected to hear the Israeli terms. (p. 245)” What was the Israeli response to their own assessment? “Instead of reaching the crucial and long overdue decision on the West Bank, the Israelis opted to present Hussein with an unreasonable proposal. This was the Allon Plan…”

Another proposal seemingly advocated by Levi Eshkol at least privately was the annexation of the Gaza Strip after most of its residents had been expelled to the East Bank (Jordan). This certainly was unacceptable to Hussein, whose kingdom already suffered from an overflow of 1948 and newly arrived 1967 refugees.

Raz describes Abba Eban as the eloquent articulator of the Israeli policy of non-decision. It was his tactic to investigate policies he knew were moot, just to show movement and the illusion of progress. He was behind promises of new ideas if peace talks would only be approved by the Arab side, even though he knew full well that bold decisions to present new approaches had not been taken by Israel (nor could they be taken in an atmosphere of indecision and the desire by many for territorial enlargement). Serious concessions would split the country.

This book stops with 1968, except for a short epilogue describing in brief some of the key events of the following decades. It would not be unreasonable to trace some of the current Palestinian opposition to negotiations to the post 1967 ploy to lure Arabs into talks before a framework was agreed upon. Promises of bold measures by a government unwilling or unable to deliver were used as bait to show theoretical movement and assign ultimate failure on Arab intransigence. Perhaps the true key to peace is the realization that when everything else fails, men action rationally.

Is Avi Raz right in his heavily political analysis? It is not for this reviewer to render judgment. The book is very well researched and documented. It is highly recommended for careful reading. Let the reader decide for himself. There is one point, however, that should be clear to all. We must find a way to cease conflict and live together in peace for our sake and the sake of future generations.


from the October/November 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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