In principle the Six-Day War is a point where many people in the Arab world began to understand that the military confrontation with Israel is fruitless and in order get back the territories they will have to opt for a peace settlement and eventually a peace treaty. You can say that in the spirit of this logic, eventually Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt. This would not have happened if Israel was not able to trade the Sinai Peninsula for peace.
On the negative side, the Six-Day War also created the temptation on Israel’s part to hold those territories regardless of any chances for peace, and that is the ideological position of the Israeli far right (it used to be the position of the right as a whole). As we know it today the ideological right only appeared in Israel after its victory in 1967 and its position is that we should not give up the territories under any conditions. This relates mainly to Judea and Samaria (West Bank), and formerly to Gaza as well, not the Sinai which was never at the heart of the right-wing ideology, whereas the West Bank is at the heart of this ideology and it only appeared because of the victory in 67. Before the Six-Day War, nobody had seriously suggested that Israel should go and conquer those territories, but once they fell into Israeli hands there was and still is a very strong opinion that they should remain ours forever. Among those who have been willing to give up parts of the historical Land of Israel, there have, since 67, been debates about the extent of the possible withdrawal.
If in the end there will be a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians then it will only be possible because of the victory of June 1967. Of course, peace also requires a readiness on Israel’s part to give up the territorial fruits of this victory for peace, as has been done in the case of Egypt. Beyond the question of peace, Israel’s rule over the Palestinians in the territories is a grave long-term threat to Israel as a Jewish state and as a democracy.
Whether a land-for peace deal is possible now is very much an open question because of the strength of the Israeli Right, which finds expression in the settlement drive,since that victory, but also because of the question whether large parts of the Palestinian opinion are willing to have peace with Israeli even in exchange for the West Bank. This is far from self-evident. Hamas is clearly and unambiguously saying their aim is to liberate the whole of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and Fatah is saying that they’re willing to agree a two-state solution but they are also saying that they insist on the right of return for 1948 refugees and that means a de facto nullification of the Jewish state of Israel. Many assume this is just a bargaining chip for the Palestinians; I must say this does not follow from what they regularly tell their people. The basis of the possible deal is known: Israel gives up the fruits of its victory in June 1967 in exchange for Arab acceptance of Israeli victory in 1948. Eventually, this is the only deal possible, but whether it is possible now is a different question.
The legacies of the Six-Day War for Israel are complicated because it’s a very fundamental event in Israel’s history. On the positive side the Six-Day War is the beginning of a chance for Israel to have peace with its neighbours, because before the war there was no readiness in the Arab world to make peace with Israel, and there were no bargaining chips that Israel could use to convince its neighbours to make peace. It is only because there are now occupied territories that there is this principle of ‘land for peace’, and it can be argued on the Arab side that now they have to make peace in order to get back the territories. This is indeed the basis of the arguments presented by the moderate forces in the Arab world.
Alexander Yakobson is an Associate Professor of Ancient and Medieval History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute. Professor Yakobson studies democracy, popular politics, public opinion and elections in the ancient world.