For pragmatism was not the only outcome of the Six Day War. Paradoxically, as Fouad Ajami explained, the War also spurred the rise of radical Islamism. Today that Islamism fuels political extremism and terrorism against Israel, as well as holding back economic and political development in the region as a whole. Meanwhile on the Israeli side, the War led to the birth of the largely religious settler movement, whose endeavours constitute a significant, though not insurmountable, obstacle to peace. For despite large-scale domestic opposition, Israel has taken down settlements before both in Sinai and in Gaza.
In any case, settlements are not the central obstacle to peace. Unfortunately, even the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has twice rejected proposals that would have provided the basis for a Palestinian state in the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and Gaza (including territorial swaps), under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Given the bleak prospects for resolving the conflict comprehensively in the medium term, Israel needs to think in terms of managing the conflict in a way that facilities resolution in the long run. It also needs to ensure that it retains its identity as a Jewish and democratic state; an identity threatened by the expansion of settlements and by continued Israeli civilian control over half of the West Bank.
Right now there exists an opportunity to deal with these issues and simultaneously widen the circle of peace. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States are willing to take steps towards normalization with Israel in exchange for a settlement freeze east of the security barrier. This idea, along with the idea of transferring civilian control in Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, has also been discussed by Israel and the United States in recent years.
Taken together such moves would tilt the reality on the ground in the direction of the two-state solution, without threatening Israeli security. Indeed, it would actually improve security by strengthening regional cooperation against the enemies of peace and stability: Iran and ISIS. It could also strengthen hope among the sceptical Israeli and Palestinian publics that peace is possible and thereby assist in the marginalisation of extremist forces still further. This would be a worthy way to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War.
The decisiveness of Israel’s victory in 1967 triggered a long process during which key Arab states have come to the realization that they cannot destroy Israel and that the costs of conflict with Israel are too high to bear.
While the hope remains that peace will one day be transformed from a cold strategic necessity to a warm culture of mutual cooperation; to be successful any peace must remain grounded on Israeli strength and security. This is due to the continued power of extremist forces in a highly unstable and deeply dysfunctional Middle East.
Professor Jonathan Rynhold is the deputy head of the Political Studies dept. at Bar-Ilan University and as a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. His book entitled The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture published by Cambridge University Press won the Israeli Association for Political Science book prize in 2016.