Conflict in the Middle East after the Six-Day War of 1967

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Conflict in the Middle East after the Six-Day War of 1967

United Nations Resolution 242 ... 61
The Palestinian National Charter ... 69

On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel declared its independence, thus achieving the long-held goal of the world Jewish community for a national homeland. Israel then fought a war for its existence, decisively defeating the combined forces of the Arab nations of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The end of this war in 1949 did not bring peace to the Middle East, however. It drove approximately 700,000 of the native Arab inhabitants of Israel—known as Palestinians, for their claim to the territory formerly known as Palestine—out of Israel and into neighboring countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan. (In turn, some 600,000 Jews living in Arab nations relocated to Israel.) These Palestinians were deeply angered at what they perceived to be the Jewish theft of their nation. The neighboring Arab nations resented their military defeat. Like the Palestinians, these nations violently objected to the existence of Israel. But they also found the Palestinian refugee populations that lived in their countries to be a constant source of trouble.

For most of the 1950s and early 1960s, Israel and its neighbors managed to live together in relative peace (despite a crisis over the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1956, in which Israeli and Egyptian forces fought). During these years, Arab nations were engaged in an ongoing battle over whose view of the Arab future would prevail. In Egypt, President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) promoted Pan-Arabism, arguing that Arab nations should all join together to combat the West (countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States) due to their support of the Jewish nation of Israel. In Syria and Iraq, members of the Baath Party (a political party that supported Arab nationalism and strengthening Islam) shared the embrace of Pan-Arabism, but they wanted a socialist system (a form of social organization in which the major means of production and distribution of goods and services are owned, managed, and controlled by the government, an association of workers, or the community as a whole). In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, hereditary monarchs (a system of rule where ultimate power transfers from family member to family member) were comfortable with their own unquestioned rule. At this point in Arab history, the belief that Arabs should unite under Islamic religious law, or Sharia, was not widespread. Adding to these battles over the future of the Middle East were the continued pressures from Palestinians to address their claims against Israel. The disorder between Arab countries kept direct conflicts with Israel to a minimum, at least for a time.

War returned to the Middle East in 1967. Continual smallscale attacks on Israel by Palestinians based in neighboring Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan increased tensions between the countries, as did standoffs between Israeli and Egyptian forces in the Sinai region. Within Israel, debate raged between those who wanted to go to war and those who wanted to use diplomacy to solve the problems. On June 5, the Israelis opted for war, and launched a series of air strikes on Egyptian forces in the Sinai, followed shortly thereafter by offensive attacks in the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Ignoring calls from the United States for a ceasefire, the Israelis made stunning advances. When open fighting stopped six days later, Israel occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. As in 1948–49, the Arabs had been decisively defeated. The Six-Day War, as it came to be known, left Israel in possession of vast new tracts of land, and forever changed the nature of the conflict in the Middle East.

In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, all sides in the conflict were forced to reconsider what they expected for the future. The United Nations (an association of countries established in 1945 to promote peace, security, and cooperation between nations) tried to ease the conflict by passing resolutions that would provide a framework for peace. The Arab nations had to reexamine their efforts to pursue Arab unity, and—faced with the fact that they could not defeat the Israelis in battle—began to formulate a new policy to isolate Israel diplomatically. The Palestinians, encouraged by Arab political support, arms, and money, recognized that they must become better organized if they were to make any advances in their pursuit of an independent state. To this end, they formed the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964 and issued a National Charter in 1968. The Israelis faced important decisions about what to do with lands gained in the Six-Day War. In the following documents, groups such as the United Nations, the Arab nations, and the Palestinians react to the events of the Six-Day War and make plans to deal with future conflicts in the region.

The Results of the Six-Day War

As a result of the Six-Day War, fought between June 5 and June 10, 1967, Israel occupied territories formerly held by its neighbors. From Egypt, Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip; from Syria it took the Golan Heights; and from Jordan it seized a region known as the West Bank. From that time on, these territories have been the source of nearly continual dispute between Israel and those neighbors. Arab governments and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) released official statements demanding the return of these lands, but the Israeli government generally refused to make direct statements about its plans for the land.

Israel did not take a consistent official position primarily because the country was deeply divided over what to do with these territories. Some believed in the idea of a "Greater Israel." They wanted to make these territories a permanent part of Israel. They began to build settlements, or small communities, in these territories, in the hopes that if these settlements became large enough Israel would be unable to give back the land. Others did not want Israel to claim these territories, especially the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, because they contained huge Palestinian populations. If these Palestinians became citizens of Israel, they would be a majority and could affect Israel's politics. These Israelis believed that the territories should be used as bargaining chips that Israel could use to gain permanent peace settlements with its Arab neighbors.

In truth, both visions of how to use the Occupied Territories have continued, reflecting the ongoing divisions within Israel. The Sinai was returned to Egypt in the 1970s as part of the peace process with that nation, and the Gaza Strip and West Bank remain a source of negotiations with Palestinians. But settlements have been created nearly continuously since 1967, and removing Israeli citizens from those settlements has created huge problems for politicians who seek to give back these territories. In Israel, the argument over what to do with these territories continues.

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Conflict in the Middle East after the Six-Day War of 1967

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