The 50th anniversary of the 1967 war
The 50th anniversary of the start of the 1967 Arab- Israeli war, on June 5, is a suitable moment to take stock of the state of affairs in the region. What a half-century it has been. The map has changed since June 1967, when war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbours for the third time since the Jewish state was founded. Israel has since annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem and continues to occupy the West Bank.
The Arab world too has changed. The collective defeat of Arab armies following illusory promises before the war of quick victories has been morale-sapping for the Arab world. It has, also, irreversibly shaken confidence in Arab political leaders.
Israel itself has altered, coarsening and hardening in the past 50 years. It has brutalised its occupation of Palestinian lands, dehumanising the people and elevating the building of illegal settlements to a state doctrine.
In the past few days, Israel has provocatively and humiliatingly celebrated the capture of East Jerusalem as the “unification” of its eternal capital even though the city’s status formally remains in dispute.
Even so, perhaps the next half-century may be less dismal than the last. Certainly, Israel received a rude shock at the hands of US President Donald Trump, whose surprise election victory was cheered in Tel Aviv last November. Here, Israelis said at the time, is an American president who will offer unconditional support to Israel, without the usual caveats about settlements building and human rights for Palestinians.
That was then. Trump has followed his predecessors in signing the 6-month waiver that suspends the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act requiring the US embassy to move to the city. The White House has stressed that the president is not reneging on his campaign pledge on Jerusalem but merely postponing the inevitable in the interests of future peace talks. Whatever the calculations, it was a wise decision to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
After three years without a peace process or any prospect for restarting negotiations, the time to talk has come. This will not be easy. The Arab Peace Initiative endorsed at the Beirut summit of 2002 offers a solid starting base for serious negotiations. What other chance is there for hope but to work towards a two-state solution?
The Oslo process was supposed to have reached a final status agreement by 1998. Nineteen years past that goal, there is still no denying the basic principles upon which it rested — ensuring the right of Palestinians to self-determination and that of Israelis to security within internationally recognised borders. Neither party can alter the history of this destructive conflict but both have a chance to build a better future for all peoples.
A sliver of hope for better things came at the start of Ramadan when hundreds of Palestinians on hunger strike in prison ended one of the longest such protests in the occupied territories in 50 years.
Israelis are capable of concessions and the Palestinians are still able to defend their cause even when everything seems to point to their cause’s marginalisation.