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40 years on, Middle East struggling to restore peace

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

Forty years ago this morning, Israel launched what it called a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Six days later, the 19-year-old Jewish state seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria; territory three and a half times larger than Israel’s size on June 4. 

Four decades later, the so-called Six-Day War continues to scar the region, deeply affecting the lives of Palestinians, their Arab neighbours and the Israelis. 

Several demonstrations and exhibitions in Israel and the occupied West Bank will be held this week to protest against 40 years of Israeli occupation that rights groups say have plunged the Palestinians into unprecedented poverty. In Tel Aviv, protesters will build a dummy checkpoint to portray restrictions on West Bank Palestinians. Anti-settlement campaign group Peace Now is also planning a protest in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. 

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinians were expected to observe a minute's silence at 0900 GMT. But in East Jerusalem, Israeli police prevented a Palestinian conference, titled “Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state, how to transform slogans”, from taking place. 

More events will be held throughout the week, culminating in anti-occupation protests around the world on Saturday.

Although many in Israel mark the war as the country’s brightest moment, others consider it the Jewish state’s biggest mistake as it transformed Israel into an occupying power. “Had we been able to transform the victory into peace, we might have been able to prevent the wars that followed,” Israel’s elder statesman Shimon Peres said in a recent interview.

For the Palestinians, the war added to the despair that began since the establishment of Israel: they came under Israeli occupation and their dream of an independent state faded. 

“The hated enemy, who had driven the Palestinians from their homes in 1948, was now in control of their lives, lands, and property,” Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote. 

Despite the despair, the war strengthened the Palestinian resistance movement, forced most Israelis to realize that the Palestinians have a right to live in an independent state, and paved the way for the two sides to sign the 1993 Oslo accords. 

“After two Intifadas, political and military reversals, the Israelis have learned to admit the idea of retreat and the creation of a Palestinian state, something that was unthinkable in 1967 and 20 years ago,” according to Ilan Greilsammer, an Israeli political analyst.

Egypt was the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel by singing a peace treaty with the Jewish state in on March 26, 1979, following the Camp David Accords (1978). The main features of the agreement were the mutual recognition of each country by the other, the cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula. 

Jordan followed Egypt in 1994 with the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace which normalized relations between the two countries and resolved territorial disputes between them.

Despite the peace deals, the Six-Day War planted the seeds of deep-rooted problems that generations of diplomats have been unable to solve in their attempts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jewish settler movement and the struggle over who should rule Jerusalem have hampered efforts to resolve the conflict, with peace talks stalled since the failure of Camp David talks in 2000 and Israel's rejection of a recently-revived Arab peace plan that offers the Jewish state normal ties in exchange for its withdrawal from occupied land a return of Palestinian refugees. 

“After 40 years of occupation we are more insistent than ever on the principle of the return of the entire Golan Heights,” Syria’s official Ath-Thawra newspaper wrote on the eve of the Six-Day War anniversary. 

The illegal war also cast a shadow over U.S. diplomacy, with Washington continuing its blind support for Israel but at the same time struggling not to lose its Arab allies. It also defied decades-old UN resolutions 242 and 338 that enshrined the land-for-peace principles. 

“It is a time to reflect... We all have to pool our efforts towards supporting the Arab peace initiative and returning the parties to the negotiating table,” Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Jawdeh said.

“It is scandalous the occupation has persisted since 1967. This conflict should have been resolved long ago, and its continuation is an indictment of all involved,” The Economist wrote recently.

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