Sunday, October 4, 2009


US President Barack Obama's "inspirational" speech at the UN included more than a few passages about the Middle East conflict. He expressed the hope for "a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world," a wish shared by all Israelis. Upon closer look at some of the president's statements, several question marks arise.

Obama addresses the 64th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. The speech didn't, for instance, mention Islamic fundamentalism or Jihadism, the principal reasons for instability in the Middle East and beyond. Nor did it condemn the Arab world's refusal to acknowledge the Jewish people's right to a state of its own.

No less problematic, his reference to ending "the occupation that began in 1967" puts history on its head, as it implies, perhaps unintentionally, that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This clearly inverts cause and effect.

As the writer and historian Simon Schama wrote, history should endeavor "to disentangle fact from fable," also reminding us that one of America's Founding Fathers, John Adams, had said "Facts are stubborn things." Well, the facts regarding the conflict in the Holy Land, though often deliberately or inadvertently distorted or ignored , are indeed "stubborn." Terrorist activities against Israel had started years before the "occupation," and the PLO commitment to the destruction of the Jewish state was founded in 1964

NO LESS important in the factual and historical sense are the actual antecedents of the "Six-Day War" which resulted in the "occupation" to which the president's speech referred.

On May 13, 1967 the Egyptian dictator Gamel Abdel Nasser announced that two Egyptian divisions would move into the Sinai Peninsula bordering on southern Israel - contrary to international agreements, US commitments and UN guarantees. Caving in to Nasser's blustering, the then UN Secretary U Thant agreed to remove the UN emergency force from the area.

The next day, Egyptian armored and infantry columns crossed the Suez Canal and started moving towards the Israeli frontier. Shortly after, Cairo announced that it would block all shipping to the port of Eilat, Israel's only maritime outlet in the south, while Egyptian Mig21 war planes began flying over Israeli territory including the Dimona area. Concurrently, Syrian and Iraqi forces were ordered to prepare for an assault on northern Israel. The minimum strategic aim of the Egyptians, as was revealed later, was to cut off Israel's Negev from the rest of the country - but Nasser himself, in both public and secret statements, left no doubt that his ultimate aim was the complete annihilation of the State of Israel.

A decisive turning point leading up to the Six-Day War and grievously affecting the history of the entire Middle East to this day, occurred on May 30, 1967. On that date, King Hussein of Jordan, who had been regarded both by Israel and the US as a paragon of peace and moderation, without warning, infamously signed a military agreement with Egypt's Nasser, his former bitter enemy, including a Jordanian commitment to join Egypt in any war with Israel, stationing Egyptian and Iraqi forces inside Jordan. The "Arab Legion," considered by many as the Arab world's best fighting machine, was put under Egyptian command. Cairo radio crowed that now Israel's only escape was the sea.

Jordan (formerly Trans-Jordan) had in 1948 occupied and later annexed the western part of Palestine, hence called the "West Bank" - thus making the kingdom Israel's next door neighbor, abutting on most of the latter's population centers, including west Jerusalem and Israel's only international airport. King Hussein's precise motives are debatable; some believe that he wanted to placate the Palestinian majority inside his country, others ascribed it to the King's desire to get part of the spoils if the Arabs were be victorious against Israel.

The rest, as the expression goes, is history. The war broke out on June 5; the Egyptian air force was totally destroyed on the first day and the IDF advancing toward the Suez Canal, wiped out the Egyptian forces in its wake. The blockade of Eilat was lifted. In the north, the Golan Heights from which the Syrian army began its attack on Israel, were taken - and Jordanian troops, after an unsuccessful attempt to force their way into West Jerusalem, were, after several days of hard fighting, expelled from all of the land west of the Jordan River. Israel had achieved complete victory in a war of legitimate self-defense against blatant aggression whose declared aim had been its obliteration.

ALL OF the above was fully acknowledged by most of the nations of the world, though not, of course, by the Arab countries and their allies, or by the Soviet Union which according to some views, had actually egged on the Arab governments in their aggressive designs. Successive American leaders declared that Israel should never be asked to go back to its former vulnerable borders, while the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 which specifically linked any Israeli withdrawals from "territories" to achieving secure borders.

This is what 1967 is all about: not "ending" occupation, but making sure that Israel will never again be put in a situation like the one it faced in that fateful year.

The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.

No comments: