Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israeli society took a hard look at this pivotal turning point in its history.
Silver-haired generals, retired politicians, journalists and analysts were the week's favorites on Israeli TV programs, as they struggled with the country's most painful questions:
Could the war have been avoided? Could things have turned out better had the war not been launched on June 6, 1967? Has Israel missed any opportunity to turn victory into peace?
While almost everyone is in agreement that the occupation has taken a terrible material and moral toll on Israel society, many noted that the 1967 conquest also led to the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and it still offers Israel an indispensable bargaining chip in its current plea for peace with Syria and the Palestinians.
Thus, The Economist's characterization of the 1967 war as "Israel's wasted victory" is by general consent misconceived and ill informed. Audiences were further reminded that the 1967 war gave a death blow to Pan-Arabism, an ideology that could have posed as serious a threat to Israel's existence as radical Islam does today.
While this soul-searching exercise was going on on Israeli TV, the June 6 anniversary also provided a platform for some of the most vicious attacks on Israel's existence. Our friend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has decided again that Israel's days are numbered, and his intellectual allies in Europe and the United States did not sit idle.
My UCLA colleague, Sari Makdisi, for example, has raised the pitch of his racist rhetoric to conclude on the pages of The Nation that "Zionism has run its course, and in doing so has killed any possibility of a two-state solution."
As usual, those who claim to be victims of "Orientalism" - that is, depicting Arabs from a Western perspective - have no qualms redefining other people's identities.
Whenever I read any of the harsh anti-occupation articles, many by well-meaning Jews, I can't help but wonder whether these authors truly believe that Israel oppresses Palestinians out of pleasure or greed, and I ask myself what makes them blind to the collective agony that Israeli society goes through on account of the occupation, as well as to the nation's genuine struggle to extricate itself from it, if that were at all possible. I also wonder whether any of these erudite authors spend as much time researching the ramifications of an immediate Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders as they currently spend on bashing Israel's attempts to reach a peace settlement first.
The most revealing information that emerged from last week's developments came not from the "Israel-bashing" pack but from the pro-coexistence camps. If anyone wonders why the peace process is in no better shape today than it was in 1967 or in 1993 or 2000, a reading through the publications of the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps should provide the answer.
Both sides are stubbornly refraining from addressing the one issue that they know is necessary and sufficient for peace: Palestinian acceptance of the idea of a permanent Jewish state in the 1967 borders, including the resettlement of the refugees outside those borders. Each side pretends that this acceptance is already an established fact, and neither side, perhaps out of fear of offending the other or spoiling the dialogue, dares examine the evidence.
The Israeli peace camp speaks as if it believes that the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence and that the problem is merely that of convincing or controlling a temporarily violent minority.
The Palestinian peace camp, on the other hand, speaks as though it believes that the majority of Israelis will agree to withdraw to the 1967 borders once terror is reigned in and that there is, therefore, no need to discuss Israel's historic legitimacy or compromises on the Palestinians "right of return."
These positions do not reflect prevailing beliefs in either community. Israelis do not believe the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence, and the Palestinians know that Israelis are united against withdrawal from the territories as long as, and only as long as, this disbelief persists.
This week, for the first time, these facts received hard evidential confirmation.
New public opinion research conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information has shown that fear of the Palestinians, lack of trust in both their aspirations and their ability to be partners for peace are the greatest obstacles to Israeli willingness to move ahead toward a peace process and toward making concessions. (Source: Gershon Baskin, Jerusalem Post, June 4, 2007.) The report states:
Sixty-two percent of Israelis believe that Palestinians want to establish their state on all the territory from the Jordan to the sea. Fifty-six percent believe that Palestinians want such a state without Jews. Nearly four times as many Israelis (30 percent) believe that almost no Palestinians are prepared to make concessions for peace as those who believe that most of them will (8 percent).
More revealing, the research also shows that Israelis are open to changing their attitudes toward Palestinians:
"When presented with a scenario where the Palestinian Ministry of Education removes all textbooks from the curriculum that incite against Israel and replaces them with textbooks educating for acceptance of the State of Israel and the importance of living with it in peace, nearly 70 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace.
"When presented with the following: A number of influential Palestinian religious leaders, including Hamas, declare on Palestinian television in Arabic that according to Islam, Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland and Palestinian Muslims must accept this, almost 60 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust in that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace."
Are Israelis' perceptions of Palestinians' aspirations overly paranoid? I doubt it. That Palestinians are far from accepting Israel's legitimacy, or even a mild version of it, is clear not merely from their textbooks, TV programs, mosque sermons and Hamas' victory in the last election but primarily from the activities of their spokespersons in the Palestinian diaspora.
The Makdisi's of the academic world and other Palestinian spokesmen have long ceased to disguise their designs under the cloak of objection to the occupation; they have been calling openly and increasingly more boldly for the dismantling of the "irredeemably criminal" State of Israel.
More direct proof came last week in the small Palestinian town of Anata, where about 1,000 people gathered in a peace demonstration. Gershon Baskin, one of the organizers, described the rally thus:
"This is the first peace demonstration that Palestinians have held, called for and organized since 1993. Israelis have always asked, 'Where's the Palestinians' peace now?' Well, this is peace now in Palestine; these are people who are calling not only for the end of the occupation, but they're calling for two states for two people, which is a recognition of Israel's right to exist alongside the Palestinian state, and it's very significant."
Unfortunately, according to an ABC report on June 6, "it all started to go awry. It turned out that nearly all the busloads who'd turned up were only there to support [Jibril] Rajoub, and when he finished, they left. Hundreds of plastic chairs were left vacant. Even the prospect of a video message from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter couldn't hold them."
And Mr. Rajoub, former Palestinian national security adviser, instead of urging his audience to aspire to the fruits of peace spent most of his speech threatening Israel with terror. "There are a million ways to get to Tel Aviv" he told the rally.
It is hard, I admit, to expect conciliatory gestures from people living under the siege of occupation.
At the same time, it is irresponsible to delude those people with false premises and hide from them the one path that would bring them independence and dignity: to publically unveil their acceptance of the independence and dignity of their neighbors.
Judea Pearl is a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation www.danielpearl.org. He is a co-editor of "I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl" (Jewish Lights, 2004).