The Six-Day War and the 2019 Israeli Elections
The Six-Day War, or Al-Naksa, was the brief and bloody war fought between Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Serving as the first serious escalation between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the war preceded years of diplomatic tension.
On June 5th, 1967, Israeli defense forces launched pre-emptive strikes as well as a strategic ground offensive that allowed them to gain the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The war ended six days later on June 10th, with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire. The significant land grab permanently altered the map of the Middle East, leading to increased geopolitical tensions.
The Six-Day War is, without a doubt, one of the most important Arab-Israeli conflicts to date besides the signing of the Balfour Declaration. The strategic win altered the course of the Arab-Israeli relationship, putting things into motion that are still going on today. The Israeli strong-arming of Arab nations increased Israeli national pride, but also set the course for more deadly and frequent clashes between the two. Since the first war, there have been more than a dozen skirmishes, two intifadas, the Yom Kippur War, and more. Most importantly, the Six-Day War created three of the most controversial and long-lasting issues that stand in the way of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors: the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the creation and expansion of Jewish settlements, and the question of ownership over the Golan Heights.
Occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
Following the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Oslo Accord of 1993 was passed to quell tensions. The Accord created a five year period of Palestinian autonomy within both areas and created three different areas. Area A consisted of Palestinian cities where the Palestinian authority was given full civil and security control over the area. Area B consisted of Palestinian villages where the Palestinian authority had civil affairs powers and some law-and-order powers but Israel retained ultimate control. Area C was the most important area because it contained Israeli settlements, access roads, nature reserves, and more. Because of how strategic it was, Israel retained total control of the area.
However, the Second Intifada changed the course of the occupation in both cities. The Intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2005, effectively turned Area A into Area B. In the wake of the fighting, Israel was forced to withdraw its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, giving it back to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). A fence and buffer zone were then placed along the border to separate the sides. The wall in the West Bank runs similar to the pre-1967 border. It cuts deeply into the West Bank to include the Israeli settlements and the city of Jerusalem, creating isolated pockets that belong to Palestine.
Following the war in 1968, a group of Jewish settlers posing as tourists checked into a hotel in Hebron, Occupied West Bank and refused to leave until the government let them settle temporarily nearby. This then opened the floodgates to the colonization of much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
By 2019, the number of settlements on Palestinian soil has become so extensive that it has rendered the two-state solution essentially impossible. Before Israel was forced to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after the second Intifada, there were 8,000 settlers there. In 2015, there were an estimated 386,000 settlers occupying nearly 131 settlements located in the West Bank.
The tricky thing is, according to international law, Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil are illegal. According to Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, an occupying power is banned from moving citizens into occupied land. However, every government since 1967 has allowed settlements. Israel is able to bypass this for the most part by refuting the applicability of the article in this situation, saying they aren’t occupying, citing the amendment that created the State.
The Golan Heights is a region in the Levant that spans about 1,800 square kilometers. Located in Syria, it is internationally recognized as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Serving as a strategic plateau, it borders much of Israel and a small portion of both Jordan and Lebanon.
The Heights are one of the most strategic pieces of land Israel gained during the Six-Day War. Because it borders Syria and because it’s elevated, it gives Israel a 40-mile view of southern Syria. Because the Israeli military can clearly see all the way to Damascus, the capital, it gives Israel the ability to monitor the Syrian military and the upper hand if tensions escalate. Not only is it strategic militarily, but it serves as an important source of water for all three countries it borders, giving its controller ultimate power.
When the Heights were under Syrian control, they were used to shell the Israeli settlements below. In an effort to prevent Syria from launching artillery into the settlements, Israel passed a law in 1981 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin that annexed the area in name. Despite Israel claiming jurisdiction over the land, it is in name only, as the international community does not recognize it. According to a UN Security Council Resolution, “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”
Following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel agreed to disengage from the Golan Heights. In the years after the annexation, Syria and Israel engaged in numerous attempts to solve the issue of ownership. The indirect and direct negotiations stopped following the Arab Spring revolts in 2011 and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Israel did not trust the Assad regime and did not want it near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, for fear of what it might do.
2019 Israeli Elections
On April 9th, 2019, early legislative elections were held in Israel to elect 120 members of the 21st Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from the Likud party, went up against Benny Gantz, from the Blue and White alliance. What made this election so interesting was the rhetoric coming from Netanyahu. Capitalizing on Zionist theories, Netanyahu appealed to his nationalist base and right-wing political allies. Much of his promises if re-elected appear to solidify Israel’s wins during the Six-Day War, highlighting the significance of the war.
The first issue that came up in the election was the issue of ownership over the city of Jerusalem. For years, the United States had its embassy in Tel-Aviv, in recognition of the city being the capital of the State of Israel. But for years, the Israeli government has tried to get the United States, along with other countries, to move their embassies to Jerusalem to prove that the city is indeed the rightful capital. Every president prior to Donald Trump has resisted making the move in order to keep the two-state solution a viable option. On May 14th, 2018, President Donald Trump announced the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The move directly echoes the Six-Day War because of what happened to Jerusalem during it. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the war and in the years since has been trying to regain control of the entire city. The embassy move erased the ceasefire agreement from the Six-Day War that made the territory neutral. The embassy move has solidified Jerusalem as the de-facto capital of the State of Israel.
The second issue that came up in the election was the issue of West Bank ownership. On April 7th, two days prior to the election, Netanyahu announced he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he was re-elected. He promised he would not uproot anyone but that he also wouldn’t be transferring sovereignty to the Palestinians already settled there. Since beginning his time as prime minister, Netanyahu has actively supported the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Israel has had control of since the war. For years, Israel has always stopped short of formally annexing the Bank, leaving room for negotiations with the Palestinians. However, the vow to annex the entire Bank throws the two-state solution completely off the table.
The last issue that came up during the elections was the issue of the ownership of the Golan Heights. On March 25th, President Trump formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He met with Netanyahu early in March to sign the presidential proclamation. And in an updated map of the region released in April, the Golan Heights appears as part of Israel, while the West Bank still appears as separate territory not part of Israel.
The Six-Day War is one of the most strategic battles in Middle Eastern history because of the precedent it set. Because of the extensive land-grab, Israel has ruled Palestine via occupied territories for nearly 60 years- something Zionist leaders like Gilead Sher never imagined. The war erased any chance of a two-state solution actually working because of what land was grabbed. The fact that rhetoric in an election over 50 years later stemmed from the losses of the war prove that even though the war is over, it continues and will always influence the politics of Israel and its neighbors.
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