A 40-year Journey to a Low Point

During the 40 years since 1967 there have been ups and downs in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Today they are at a low point, perhaps the worst of all.

For more than a week now, the most popular Arabic television station, Al Jazeera, has been broadcasting man-in-the-street interviews in various places around the Arab world to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War. The responses are interesting. In the Gulf Emirates many people don't know anything about it. Especially the young people. They are asked what the 1967 Huzayran (June) War says to them and they answer with a shrug.

In other places people say the Arab defeat was caused by the impotence of the Arab rulers. They speak in generalizations, without mentioning the name of any particular ruler. For most of the speakers the war is associated with the president of Egypt at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Interviewees in Cairo say the problem was that Nasser was surrounded by unreliable people, including the Arab rulers, his partners in the war.

The Palestinians' answers tend to deny the definition "war" to the events of June 1967. "On the very first day at 10 A.M. everything was over. Is that a war?" said a shopkeeper in Gaza. Then he gave an example: Suppose the Israeli government decides today for the tanks of the Israel Defense Forces to retreat immediately from their positions in the West Bank, and they start moving toward Israel. How much time will that take them? At least two weeks. So how is it possible that they occupied the whole West Bank in three or four days?

The conclusion: There was a conspiracy. Traitorous Arab leaders collaborated with Israel and helped it gain control of the territories. Many of the Palestinians who say this are referring to King Hussein of Jordan. They don't explicitly mention his name, but they hint that the Jordanian regime was and remains a secret ally of Israel, and it conspires with Israel.

A number of Palestinian commentators have analyzed the 40 years of the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. They began after 1967 with violent resistance and an armed struggle (Palestinian terminology makes little use here of terms such as terror and terror attacks). They mention the acts of sabotage inside Israel and the plane hijackings. This happened mainly in the 1970s when, using terror, Yasser Arafat and his partners in the Palestinian Liberation Organization brought the Palestinian problem out of obscurity and onto the international agenda.

The second stage, in the 1980s and 1990s, was characterized mainly by what is called unarmed "civil revolt," the peak being the first intifada. After that, during the Oslo period and following the collapse of the peace process, the violence was renewed. Its identifying characteristic was suicide attacks. Each of these stages of resistance was exploited to the full, more or less, and now we are in the current phase of resistance - the phase of steep-trajectory weaponry.

These analyses serve as a suitable context for describing the change in Hamas' position, which has been very evident in recent days. In Hamas they understand very well that the air force bombardments in the Gaza Strip and the arrests of leaders in the West Bank attest to Israel's impotence in dealing with the firing of rockets and missiles. They expect an escalation in the violence and demand that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas immediately stop meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"Israel is exploiting the meetings as a cover for its increasing aggression," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuheiri said over the weekend. A journalist from East Jerusalem has told of the great anger aroused by a newspaper photograph two days ago showing Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian parliament shaking hands with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at a conference in Vienna. "This is a disgrace," he said. "Tzipi Livni is lending a hand to the arrest of Ashrawi's colleagues in the Palestinian parliament, and Ashrawi is embracing her."

During the 40 years since 1967 there have been ups and downs in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Today they are at a low point, perhaps the worst of all.