On the eve of the Six Day War in June 1967, Arab states massed troops and tanks, and threatened to destroy Israel. Yet Israel pushed them back, capturing territory that gave it defensible borders. Israel then signaled that it would give back most of that land for peace, but the Arab world rejected Israel’s offers.
On November 22nd, five months after the Six Day War, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from captured land – without specifying how much – while also calling on its Arab neighbors to end acts of aggression against Israel and recognize its boundaries. This came to be known as the “land for peace” formula. Israel would cede some of its newly captured territory, in return for acceptance as a sovereign state in the Middle East. But the Arab countries refused to recognize or negotiate with Israel.
Twelve years later, however, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a treaty with Israel assuring peace and cooperation in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula – which made up nearly 90% of the land Israel captured in the Six Day War. Fifteen years after that, in 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.
For the Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza, the last 50 years have been difficult. Although there has never been an actual Palestinian state, Palestinian nationalism and identity had solidified since 1967, along with a desire for a state of their own. To that end, an elected Palestinian Authority government was created, which to this day, governs daily life for most Palestinians.
For decades, however, Palestinian leaders rejected living alongside Israel, believing that all of the land of Israel belonged to them.
In the 1990’s, the Oslo Peace Process seemed to offer a negotiated path to a Palestinian state and peace with Israel. At the Camp David Summit in 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a two-state solution. Had the Palestinians accepted this proposal, a Palestinian state would have been created in the West Bank and Gaza, with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital. But hopes were dashed in the early 2000’s when Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorists attacked Israelis in restaurants and buses, killing more than 700 Israeli civilians.
In another attempt to offer land for peace, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza strip and uprooted 8,000 Jews from their homes in 2005. Two years later, this vacated land was taken over in a military coup by the Hamas terrorist organization, which has since fired more than 12,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities.
Today, most Israelis still prefer a solution of “two states for two peoples.” For the sake of peace, most are willing to make far-reaching territorial concessions, ending what some refer to as “the occupation” and dismantling many Jewish communities, or settlements, in the West Bank, despite its deep historical and religious significance to many Jews around the world.
Yet at the same time, Israelis today have serious doubts that the current Palestinian leadership will ever accept living alongside the Jewish state. Many Israelis point to the Palestinian leadership’s ongoing acts of honoring and celebrating Palestinian terrorists. They also point to Hamas and Palestinian Authority schoolbooks that deny the existence of Israel.
Most Israelis believe that the strategic depth Israel gained in the Six Day War – a legitimate war of defense – should not be given up without strong, conflict-ending agreements that ensure Israel’s security.
Today, in this chaotic Middle East, Israel remains the one stable democracy, with thriving Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. Israelis take pride in their vibrant and diverse culture, their passion for contributing to the world, their innovation in medicine, science, technology, agriculture and the arts, and, most of all, their role in carrying forward the 3,000-year-old heritage of the Jewish people.