The consequences of Israel’s territorial gains from the Six Day War for peace with Egypt Christopher

Haynes 27/7/09

Introduction “Peace,” Shimon Peres once wrote, “like a tree, is a process of growth; it demands great patience, continuous nurturing and the surmounting of many obstacles.” (Peres, 887) Peace between Egypt and Israel was certainly a process of growth: a step-by-step process with various mediators over more than ten years. The peace struck between the two former rivals was long in coming, suffered setbacks and hurt the pride of many, but one thing is for certain: it has held. How did Egypt and Israel manage to secure a lasting peace? One possibility is that Israeli leaders felt that withdrawal from the Sinai was an insignificant price to pay for peace. But given the strong public sentiment in favour of annexing the territories won in the Six Day War, the settler movement and the Greater Israel movement, it is unlikely many Israelis were nonchalant about the land. Arab leaders, in general, felt a responsibility to the Palestinians, and demanded their rights or independence. They also demanded a resolution of the Palestinian refugee crisis. Egypt’s government addressed these issues as well. However, judging by the Egyptian government’s actions and results, some of its demands for Palestinian rights were mere lip service, and the underlying issue was the Sinai and the Suez. My contention is that the formerly Egyptian territory Israel gained in the Six Day War was the key motivation in Egypt’s signing of the Camp David Accord with Israel, the hardest negotiated concession Israel made and as such, was the principal factor for peace between the two countries. This essay seeks to understand the role Israel’s territorial gains of the Sinai Peninsula and the waterways around it played in securing its peace with Egypt. It will examine Israeli and Egyptian leadership, their decisions, the external influences on their decisions, and the importance of territory in peace negotiations and the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt. It will focus on the time between the end of the war and the signing of peace treaties, and will not consider ancient Arab and Jewish territorial claims.

Decisions made by Israel’s cabinet in the wake of the Six Day War related to the newly occupied territories have influenced all subsequent territorial negotiation with Egypt. Land-for-peace accords could have been struck with Egypt earlier, but because of the Israeli cabinet’s decisions, territorial concessions could not be attained until later. Minds changed because, as it became clearer that Egypt was willing to offer lasting peace, the prospect of losing the Sinai seemed an increasingly small price to pay. On the other side, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s intransigence precluded a peace treaty. Nasser was seen as the leader of the pan-Arab movement and thus the figurehead for Arab pride. It had been damaged and thus so had he. While some concessions could have been made, simply opening negotiations over territory would have been so damaging to Nasser that he would have lost everything. Nasser’s successor, Anwar al-Sadat, started the Yom Kippur War to regain territory to show Israel land-for-peace was in its interest and force it to the bargaining table. Had Sadat waited, there could have been more settlers, more raids on Israel and more desire to gain new territory for more secure borders. Territory was also the biggest factor in the peace talks after the Yom Kippur War. Israel’s Leadership When the dust settled and the guns went silent on June 10, 1967, Israel had quadrupled in size. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Sinai. How did Israel’s cabinet react to this unexpected but highly welcome victory over their Arab rivals? Many government ministers were initially ready to trade new land for peace. But returning territory to its neighbours was never an easy decision. Moshe Dayan wrote that, since 1948, Jewish population centres had been attacked from the hills. How could they be guaranteed these attacks would not happen again? Territory like the Sinai and the

Golan Heights made good security buffers. How could Israeli ships be ensured free passage through the Red Sea? Would the new settlers of the Sinai and elsewhere be subject to Arab rule? (Dayan, 50) These questions were on the minds of Israeli statesmen in June of 1967. The ministers’ general opinion was that Israel would not relinquish territory without a peace treaty. (Segev, 502) But they did not agree on everything. Some of the decision makers were what one might call “doves”: leaders who favoured far-reaching concessions with regard to territory. Though there were no simple answers, returning occupied territory for peace seemed reasonable to the doves. Others, which we will call “hawks” (1) (and which Abba Eban called “security men”), felt Arabs were not willing to negotiate, and for “strategic and ideological reasons”, insisted Israel retain most of the territories. (Oren, 314) While there were relative doves among IDF leaders, the “security” school had a greater impact on Israeli policy. David Elazar (“Dado”), later IDF chief of staff, “was adamant about retaining the Golan Heights which he had lobbied so hard to capture.” (Oren, 315) However, other Israeli leaders who were hawks became more dovish during the 1970s. Menachem Begin and his party, for instance, rejected the very idea of territorial concessions. (Oren, 314; Smith, 307) Ezer Weizman, in 1967 IDF chief of operations, was also opposed to territorial concessions. But he later changed his mind and agreed to Israel’s total withdrawal from the Sinai. Finally, Ariel Sharon during the war was a commander on the Sinai front, against any concessions at first, promoter of dozens of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and later uprooted Israeli settlements in Sinai so that it could be returned to Egypt. (Oren, 315) The “hawks” may have found that their initial responses were mistaken. As cabinet ministers, they may have felt a need to be more pragmatic. Nonetheless, in 1967, there was a consensus that the land captured by the IDF would be fundamental to security and peace. The cabinet deliberated until June 19. They decided secretly to exchange the Sinai and the Golan Heights for peace treaties with Egypt and Syria. Some areas of the territories

would be demilitarised and free passage through the Strait of Tiran would be guaranteed. Of the territory captured from Egypt, Israel would only keep the Gaza Strip. (Ibid., 313) This is not to say that the Sinai and the Heights were unimportant to Israelis. They were still Eretz Israel. But the ministers, or at least the doves, involved in the decision, valued peace over irredentism, and giving up the least important of the newly occupied territory was the obvious solution. In his memoirs, Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, wrote that, “even if we built a wall against attack or intimidation, we should have a door in the wall in case the attrition was successful and our neighbours came to seek accommodation.” (Shlaim, 224) In the end, the Sinai was that door. Israel offered a withdrawal from the Sinai and the Golan in return for direct negotiations for a peace treaty. Egypt and Syria rejected the offer. This suited Israel: it could now claim it had been reasonable; the Arabs were rejectionists and Israel would keep the territories. It did not have peace, but the territories provided a security buffer. According to Tom Segev, however, under the June 19th proposal, Egypt would not have recovered all its losses, and it would have needed to accept a demilitarised Sinai. (Segev, 500-1) Had Nasser accepted this proposal, he would likely have lost even more face than he had for losing the war and been accused of selling out his people. How does Israeli public opinion correlate with the June 19 decision? Polls indicated that almost sixty percent of (Jewish) Israelis believed that some of the Occupied Territories could have been returned for peace. Only one in three felt all territories should be annexed. Nearly three quarters were against giving back Sharm el-Sheikh, and about half said the same about the Sinai. (Segev, 551) A return of all of Egypt’s former territory would not have sat well with Israeli voters. The Six Day War polarised opinion in Israel to the effect that there were two major ideological movements: the Greater Israel school and the peace school. The former proposed annexation of all territories gained in the Six Day War. The latter advocated the

return of most occupied land and accommodation with Arabs. Golda Meir, soon to become prime minister, was of the Greater Israel movement. However, her party consisted mostly of doves. (Shlaim, 286) In the Fall 1969 election, Meir’s Labour Party committed itself to returning Golan, Sharm, Gaza and parts of the West Bank (though Jerusalem was still not negotiable). (Smith, 319) Meir avoided political risk by maintaining the status quo (Shlaim, 287), while her party could continue to score votes among the peace school of Israeli society. But territorial questions continued to plague ministers. In 1967 and 1975, “Israeli cabinets were often paralysed by differences over what territories should be retained and what should be offered in return for peace.” (Smith, 307) In 1973, religious members of government showed solidarity with settlers, (Zertal and Eldar, 31) part of the Greater Israel movement. However, Jimmy Carter, visiting the Holy Land before the Yom Kippur War, says that “the prevailing attitude” at the time, at least among Israeli leaders if not the public as well, was that Israel should trade them for peace. (Carter, 23) The settlers surely had an influence on public opinion and thus made leaders reluctant to return territory. However, they were probably not as big a concern as those Israelis with a desire for peace with their neighbours (which included some of the settlers (BBC)). To fulfill the terms of the peace accord, the Israeli authorities set about uprooting Sinai settlements in March 1982. (Zertal and Eldar, 48) In 1973, the Labour Party was shifting toward annexing the territories, even though previously it had said they could be negotiated and some of them returned. (Smith, 326) For example, Israeli political and military leaders took it as a matter of course in the 1970s that Sharm el-Sheikh should remain under their control. (McPeak, 430) How, then, did they ever reach the decision to relinquish control? The answer lies in the work of international actors—such as Henry Kissinger and the United Nations—and Anwar alSadat. Before we consider them, however, let us go back in time somewhat to the policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Arab League. The Reactions of Nasser and the Arab League

Defeat was a fist in the face of Nasser and the Arab nationalism he represented, and losing a big piece of Egypt to Israel was the most visible loss. Nasser demanded on several occasions that the territories be remand unconditionally (Segev, 563-5); and his anger culminated in the Khartoum conference of August 1967. The key resolution of the conference stated in one sentence that there could be a political solution “to eliminate the effects of aggression”; in the following sentence negated the possibility of a political solution by stating that there would be “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”; and as a kind of afterthought, “and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” The text made it clear that the Arab states would work indirectly with Israel through international diplomatic channels to get Israel to return to its prewar borders. (Smith, 309) The Arabs’ focus had shifted from liberating Palestine to liberating the areas occupied in the war. (Oren, 322) It is likely that the Arab leaders felt that the Palestinians were not as important as the land. The first sentence spoke bitterly of ensuring “the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of 5 June.” (My italics.) By contrast, reference to the Palestinians abiding in the occupied territories was the final phrase of the paragraph and said nothing of granting them independence. The Khartoum conference was built on bitterness and was an attempt to regain “Arab pride” deeply wounded by the Six Day War. After the Yom Kippur War, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states raised oil prices, demanding Israel withdraw from the territories and restore the legal rights of the Palestinians. (Morris, 435) Both requirements were made, at least in large part, out of collective sentiment for Arabs and Muslims. Though places that felt sympathy for the Palestinians continued to press the issue, Egypt did not feel pressure to address issues of Palestinian rights in the way other Arab states did. For the countries that actually lost territory in the

Six Day War, it was the territory that really mattered. The Arab League’s influence over Egypt, and thus peace talks, dwindled, while that of the United States rose. External Actors: Kissinger and 242 Henry Kissinger spent, according to Edward Sheehan, thousands of hours negotiating on over a dozen missions to the Middle East. His work was based largely on UN Security Council Resolution 242, approved in the wake of the Six Day War. This section will reflect on the two most significant influences on territorial negotiations that were external to the conflict: Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” and Resolution 242. Post-1973 relations between Egypt and Israel were tense and Kissinger took things slowly. To bring them to the table, Kissinger promised different things to different parties. To the Israelis, he promised that partial peace agreements were worth signing because, by giving up a little initially, international pressure on territorial concessions would subside. Kissinger led the Arabs to believe that partial agreements were a step closer to a full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Through “extremely hard bargaining”, Kissinger secured partial agreements between Israel and Egypt (Smith, 331): a Disengagement Agreement with Egypt (and one with Syria) in 1974, and an Interim Agreement in 1975. The deals saw Israel disengage the west side of the Suez Canal, which it had occupied since the Yom Kippur War, and demarcated where Egyptian forces could be stationed on the east side. (Ibid, 331) Kissinger could not have obtained such agreements without giving all sides assurances as to territorial concessions. To the Israelis, he stressed how little territory would be given up, and to Egypt and Syria how much they would get back. Territorial concessions were key to the partial withdrawal agreements. Since Lyndon Johnson, American presidents have championed Resolution 242 and the land-for-peace principle. (Oren, 327; Carter, 38) The resolution makes clear that territory must not be acquired by force and that Israel must withdraw from territories occupied in

the Six Day War. It demands “freedom of navigation through international waterways” (such as the Suez) and “territorial inviolability” for states concerned. (2) Land and peace are the central issues. The resolution makes only indirect references to the Palestinians, referring only to “the refugee problem”. Diplomats argued endlessly over the word “the”. The question was, would the Security Council demand that Israel withdraw from (all) “the territories” captured in the war, or merely from “territories”. They finally agreed on the latter. (Segev, 564; Oren, 326) The international powers either knew and acknowledged that Israel would not withdraw from all the territories, or did not want to pressure Israel to do so. Both are possible, though given Israel’s official stance, the former is more significant. With or without a definite article, the land clauses of the resolution are significant for three reasons. a) They put legal pressure on Israel to return occupied territories, which meant Egypt had something to refer to in negotiations; b) They formed the position of the US government, which, to this day, continues to acknowledge the resolution; c) They provided a basis for a peace treaty. As we shall see, matters of territory were at least as important in the Camp David Accord, more than ten years after the Six Day War. Sadat’s Moves Before discussing the accord itself however, we must look more closely at the actions of a major player in negotiations: Egypt’s president, Anwar al-Sadat. Without his bold moves and conciliatory gestures, peace would not have been possible. But if Sadat wanted peace, why did he wage the Yom Kippur War?

Benny Morris lists Sadat’s motivations. a) Control the Suez Canal; b) Appear courageous and restore Arab pride; c) Popularity, legitimacy and longevity for his regime; d) Possible contributions from the oil kingdoms; e) Break the political deadlock. (Morris, 387) When they withdrew soon after the end of the war, the peace talks with Egypt began. (Morris, 437) Sadat realised Egypt would not recover all the territory it lost to Israel in battle. Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accord in 1978. The state of conflict between Egypt and Israel halted, territory was given up and Israeli settlements in the Sinai were dismantled. Diplomatic and trade relations were established as well. (Edwards, 126) Egypt’s economic and security situations could begin to improve. Were there economic reasons for recovering the Sinai? Charles Smith writes that “[m]uch of Sadat’s movitation was economic.” (Smith, 323) If Sadat could work with the US to secure peace with Israel, it could gain US government aid. As a governmental concern, economy was intertwined with “Arab pride”: both were causes of unrest. If even just one of them could improve, Sadat’s domestic popularity would improve. But the Sinai itself was not important for the economy. Economics could not have been the only reason to push for peace. What about the Palestinian cause? Though the status of the Palestinians was part of peace negotiations, the results of negotiations indicate Sadat was more concerned about territory and Egypt’s economy. “The Palestinian chapter in the Camp David Accord served primarily to provide Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat with an ideological fig leaf to defend himself against Arab rage over his perceived betrayal of the Palestinian cause.” (Ben-Yishai, 43) As a result, for Palestinians in the West Bank, the Camp David Accord tore apart their hopes for help from Egypt. (Smith, 355) A continued state of war between Egypt and Israel could have meant an eventual end to occupation, because even

if the Egyptian government did not care about the Palestinians, the occupation of the West Bank could have been used as a bargaining chip. Sadat could have stipulated freedom or rights for the Palestinians, but adding a Palestinian clause would have distracted too much from the main issues of peace and territory, and Israel would have been far less likely to sign the end agreement. Instead, he opted for territory. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 and Egypt was isolated from other Arab states until the 1990s. And yet, his legacy remains. How did territorial concessions figure at Camp David? The Accord The territories Egypt and Israel were negotiating were the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal, including Sharm el-Sheikh, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Tiran. Having been a factor in the outbreak of the Six Day War, this area was an essential part of Israel’s new conquests. How did Sadat and Begin make their decision to sign the Camp David Accord? According to Yitzhak Shamir, “the obstacles to peace were finally removed when Egypt broke away from the PLO-rejectionist platform on the Palestinian issue.” (Shamir, 793) When Egyptian negotiators realised that Israel was not about to negotiate away the West Bank, they gave up and focused on what they really wanted: peace and the Sinai. They could have given up negotiations on principle and returned to the state of conflict. But instead, Sadat went for the Sinai and got it. One might consider that, if land was so important to Egypt, why have Israel and Syria not reached a peace accord? The simple answer is, neither state has been willing to pay the price. In some cases of conflict resolution, the interests of the parties involved are so drastically opposed that resolution seems impossible. In the case of Israel and Syria, both parties realise continued deadlock is dangerous, but demands are as yet irreconcilable. Syria desires the Golan Heights back, Israel wants security guarantees. Concessions have

not been made because Israel considers the Heights more important than a nonaggression pledge, possibly because of its military strength relative to Syria; and Syria deems such a pledge too high a price to pay for the Heights. (Ross, 27) Egypt and Israel did not face the same barriers at Camp David How important are land clauses to the final accord? • • • • • Paragraph 2 of Article 1 regards the transfer of sovereignty of the Sinai from Israel to Egypt, right after the cessation of hostilities; Article 2 recognises borders, territorial waters and airspace; Paragraph 1 of Article 3 mentions territorial integrity, as well as sovereignty, which in this case may be one and the same; Article 5 grants free passage through the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Tiran; Annexes 1 and 2 detail the rules between Egypt and Israel concerning sovereign territory. (3) Both Security Council Resolution 242 and the Camp David Accord strongly emphasise territory: freedom of movement over international waterways, and land as the price of peace. Though written eleven years apart, territory was equally important in both treaties. Conclusion Though it may be fragile or “cold”, Egypt and Israel are at peace with one another. The peace depended on Israel’s eventual willingness to give up the territory it won in the Six Day War. The Israeli government decided peace was more valuable than the Sinai, and that Egypt was willing to grant freedom of the seas as well. Nasser’s refusal to negotiate, and all his demands, aimed to recover lost territory. Sadat’s Yom Kippur War was designed to break the political deadlock, and led, in time, to the signing of land-centered nonbelligerency agreements. Henry Kissinger, the shrewd mediator, knew that appealing

to territory would keep Egypt at the bargaining table. His model was Resolution 242, as it was of the Camp David Accord. Israel has also signed a peace agreement with Jordan. But Israel’s troubles are not over. “[F]or all its military conquests, Israel was still incapable of imposing the peace it craved…. The status of territories could be negotiated but the essential issues—Israel’s right to exist, the demand for Palestinian repatriation and statehood—remained.” (Oren, 327) Territory remains a key obstacle to peace for a country so full of hope after the Six Day War.

Notes 1. Shlaim, 286-7, neatly divides the ministers into doves and hawks: Abba Eban, Zalman Aran, Pinhas Sapir, Ze’ev Sharef, Yaacov Shimson Shapira and Eliahu Sasson were doves; Golda Meir, Yisrael Galili, Yigal Allon, Moshe Carmel, Moshe Dayan, Yosef Almogi, Menachem Begin and Yosef Sapir were hawks. 2. The full text of Resolution 242 can be found here: http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/240/94/IMG/NR0240 94.pdf 3. The full text of the Camp David Accord can be found here: http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/enGB/Foreign_Policy/Treaties/Treaty+of+Peace+between+the+Arab+Republic+ of+Egypt+and+the+State+of+Israel+26+March+1979.htm and here: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace %20Process/Israel-Egypt%20Peace%20Treaty

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