Six months prior to the Six-Day War, the heads of the Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Foreign Ministry explored the possibility of Israel occupying the West Bank. Various scenarios that might lead to such an outcome were discussed, such as the fall of King Hussein's regime in Jordan, an Iraqi invasion of Jordan or a Palestinian uprising. At the end of the deliberations, all were in accord that the occupation of the West Bank would be contrary to Israel's national interest. They concluded that Israel would reap nothing good from ruling over the Palestinians, only bad - including an erosion of the country's Jewish majority and a violent uprising against the occupation.
When Jordan bombarded Jerusalem on June 5, 1967, an occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem was still contrary to Israel's national interest. But what was dictated by sound thinking six months prior to the war was quickly forgotten that morning.
There is something amazing in the cabinet transcripts documenting the decision to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem. No expert was called in for his opinion, no options were evaluated, even the legal aspects were not discussed. None of the ministers asked why it would be worthwhile for Israel to occupy the Old City. There was no need to ask; the answer was obvious, the way that only a wild fantasy can be. Nothing necessitated the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not even the attack against the western part of the city on June 5. The decision stemmed from the ministers' hearts, not their brains.
It is possible to argue over whether Levi Eshkol, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin could have known then how damaging the decision to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be. Either way, from one war to another, from one disappointment to the next, some half a million Israelis live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and Islamic extremism guides many Palestinians - making it much more difficult to achieve peace today. Forty years after the war, nearly everyone recognizes this, and many are even willing to admit that nothing good came out of the occupation.
This is a recognition that has manifested itself only in recent years. There is a generation of Israelis who barricaded themselves behind the illusion that the war created a temporary situation. At first, it seemed that there was no need to rush: Life in the territories returned to normal with surprising speed, "enlightened occupation" appeared to be a success story, the Palestinians did not immediately rise up, and the world did not force Israel to withdraw. The convenient formula of "land for peace" proved itself with the signing of the peace agreement with Egypt.
Most Israelis were willing to give up only part of the territories. Almost none were willing to give up everything. Everyone had his own map. Yes to withdrawal, but not from the Golan Heights. Not from the Jordan Valley. Yes, but not from the Gaza Strip. Not from Gush Etzion, and of course not from East Jerusalem. The peace agreement with Jordan showed that it was possible to achieve peace without a withdrawal.
It cannot be said with certainty that had all Israelis agreed to withdraw from all the territories, all the Arabs would have agreed to make peace. But those of the 1967 generation did not appreciate the damage caused by the occupation - among other things, to the fundamental ideological and moral values that gave birth to the country, and to its democratic fabric. This was the major failure of that generation.
More and more Israelis say today that they do not believe in peace. Many among them are young. That is the main difference between them and the Peace Now generation. The lack of peace, the oppression and the terrorism have become part of their identity as Israelis. They see a generation that disappointed. Less idealistic, perhaps more realistic, they will not waste their time on a comprehensive peace plan. There is no need: Their parents have bequeathed them every plan that could possibly be conceived. The challenge they face is merely to manage the conflict in a better way than their parents did, so that life will be more tolerable. In view of the circumstances they are inheriting from their parents, that is no small task.
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