Israel had sought peace for nearly two decades before being forced to defend itself against Arab aggression in 1967. After defeating the Arab armies in just six days, Israelis thought the Arab leaders would realize they could not defeat Israel militarily and would instead choose the path of peace. Instead, after the war the Arab League declared: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it...."
Israel would not have captured the West Bank or reunified Jerusalem if King Hussein had heeded the warning of Prime Minister Eshkol to stay out of the war. Instead Jordan attacked, and, in the course of defending itself, Israel found itself in control of these territories.
The Arab states lobbied the UN to require that Israel withdraw from "all the" territories it captured. This is the demand made by the Arab League in the plan recently put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The UN rejected this formulation when it adopted Resolution 242 because the Security Council understood the ‘67 border was not secure or defensible.
Since the war, Israel has consistently said that in the context of a peace agreement it was prepared to withdraw to the 1967 border "with modifications"; that is, to a new border that meets Resolution 242's requirement of being secure.
After the 1967 War, President Lyndon Johnson also rejected the idea that Israel should withdraw to the pre-war frontier: "There are some who have urged, as a single, simple solution, an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4....this is not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in 1967: "From a strictly military point of view, Israel would require the retention of some captured territory in order to provide militarily defensible borders." More than three decades later, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Thomas Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, reiterated Israel's strategic concern: "It is impossible to defend Jerusalem unless you hold the high ground....An aircraft that takes off from an airport in Amman is going to be over Jerusalem in two-and-a-half minutes, so it's utterly impossible for me to defend the whole country unless I hold that land."
More recently, President Bush put the border issue in perspective: "For a Texan, a first visit to Israel is an eye-opener. At the narrowest point, it's only 8 miles from the Mediterranean to the old Armistice line: That's less than from the top to the bottom of Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. The whole of pre-1967 Israel is only about six times the size of the King Ranch near Corpus Christi."
A withdrawal to the 1967 border would not satisfy the radical Islamists. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have made clear that they will not end their terrorist campaign against Israel if it withdraws to the prewar frontier. These and other Muslim extremists have said they will not accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Islamic world.
When Egypt's Anwar Sadat declared he was prepared to make peace, and matched his words with deeds, Israel withdrew completely from the Sinai, dismantled Jewish settlements, and gave up its oil fields. When King Hussein agreed to make peace, Israel agreed to return the small swath of Jordanian territory it held.
To date, Israel has withdrawn from approximately 93 percent of the territories it captured. In return for peace with Syria and an end to Palestinian terror, it is prepared to withdraw from most of the remaining 7% in dispute.
Israel remains committed to trading land for peace, and never annexed the West Bank or Gaza Strip because it expected to return part of these territories in negotiations. When the Palestinians finally declared that they would recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, Israel agreed to begin to withdraw. Since 1993, Israel has turned over approximately 80% of the Gaza Strip and more than 40% of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. Plans to withdraw from additional territory were scuttled by Palestinian terrorism and their violation of the Oslo agreements.
For peace, Israeli Prime Minister Barak offered to withdraw from 100% of the Gaza Strip and 95-97% of the West Bank, that is, to the 1967 border with minor modifications. He also agreed to dismantle settlements, and allow the Palestinians to establish a state with east Jerusalem as its capital if they would end the conflict. Arafat rejected the offer and did not even offer a counterproposal.
Israel offered to negotiate a return of the Golan Heights to Syria, and a succession of Prime Ministers declared a readiness to concede this strategic high ground in exchange for peace. Neither Syrian President Hafez Assad nor his son, who succeeded him, have been prepared to follow Sadat and Hussein's example and offer peace in return.
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