View from Washington: Peace is inevitable

The optimism of '67 is gone. Fierce nationalists on both sides have thwarted every peace initiative.

mjrosenberg88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It is striking how many articles and media reports have been devoted to the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. So much has happened in the Middle East in the 40 years since but, nonetheless, that one week in June stands out as a week that changed everything. It certainly did for me. I was in college in 1967 and, until the crisis began, had not spent too much of my average day thinking about Israel. Those were Vietnam days and, like many kids on campus, I was very much involved in arguments about the war. That all changed in May when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser moved a half million troops into the previously demilitarized Sinai Peninsula, signed war pacts with Syria and Jordan, and announced his intention to attack Israel. In retrospect, we don't know if Nasser really intended to attack or if a situation cooked up by the Soviets just spiraled out of hand. But Jews, in Israel and out, had no doubt that Nasser's goal was to destroy Israel and that 19 years of threats to "push the Jews into the sea" were about to be realized. I remember watching television in a dorm - it was exam time - and seeing crowds in Arab capitals calling for "Death to Israel." It was terrifying. I could think of nothing else. School ended. I went home. The crisis continued. Six thousand miles from Israel, you could feel the tension on the streets. The war began on Monday, June 5th, and on Tuesday my mother woke me with the news, "It's over. Israel won." Back then there were no all-news networks so it took awhile to learn the full extent of the victory. Jews who had hoped for survival as the best possible outcome were amazed to see Israel, and themselves, as triumphant. NOTHING WAS ever the same. A year later I was in Israel for the first time and living in, of all places, east Jerusalem where my Jewish youth group had placed me. Jerusalem itself was a small dusty place. Those hills around it, now topped by one high-rise after another, were vacant except for a few churches and mosques. One day my buddy and I went for a walk up to Mt. Scopus, where the old Hebrew University had been prior to 1948 (and is again today). We walked around in the heat and suddenly were dying of thirst. But there was nothing up there. No place to get a drink. Finally a Palestinian saw our distress and took us into his house to get water. He told us to take a nap because we looked awful. We resisted but he insisted. We awoke to find ourselves in a room adorned with a big photo of the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Al Amin al-Husseini, the fierce anti-Zionist. We decided that the Palestinian intended to kill us. Not quite true. While we slept, his wife had prepared an Arab dinner fit for a mukhtar. After we ate, the husband drove us back to our hotel. That was my first introduction to a Middle East reality far more complex, and less dire, than the one we heard about in New York. They did not want us all dead. That first visit to Israel (there have been dozens more) kicked off a love affair I have had with the country ever since. Almost from my first day in the country, I have felt at home there. For me, Israel remains a dream, one that cannot be imagined until one has spent time there. THE OPTIMISM of '67 is gone. Fierce nationalists on both sides have thwarted every peace initiative and Yitzhak Rabin, the military leader responsible for the Six Day War triumph, was assassinated 28 years later for trying to end the war once and for all by returning the lands he and his men had captured. The good news is that in both 2002 and 2007 the Arab League finally said yes to Levi Eshkol's offer of peace. He would be stunned to know that the same Arab League that utterly rejected Israel in 1967 is now offering not just peace, but full normalization of relations in exchange for the same territories Eshkol was laying on the table way back then. He would be depressed by Israel's less than enthusiastic response. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that Israel will accept the offer or something very much like it, just as it recognized the PLO when Arafat agreed to recognize Israel. And just as it came around to the understanding that achieving peace is predicated on the independence and security of two-states: the State of Israel and a West Bank/Gaza Palestine with a presence in East Jerusalem. Peace is inevitable because both peoples want it. American leadership, either during the next two years or during the next presidency, will help the two parties make it happen. Israel, the reality, is so different than the Israel put out by some of its supporters here. Their lachrymose Israel, always on the brink of destruction, all pain and tears, is a myth calculated for direct mail organizational fund-raising and to rally "support" from the masses and from Congress. But it's a myth. Don't cry for Israel. Celebrate it. The writer is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.