Thursday, June 5, 2003

Peace 'road map' offers new hope

Guest opinion

By Barbara Glueck
Guest columnist

Thirty-six years ago this week, Arab nations, led by Egypt and Syria tried, to destroy Israel.

They had failed to do so in 1948, when the United Nations decided to create two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, in British Mandatory Palestine, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The Arab world rejected the U.N. decision and began a massive invasion, which Israel successfully rebuffed, although at a grievous cost in human life.

Before the Six Day War, Egypt and Jordan occupied Gaza and the West Bank, territory that the UN had allocated for an Arab (Palestinian) state under its 1947 Partition Plan. Jordan had controlled the holiest Jewish sites in Jerusalem's Old City for decades, and had expelled the Jewish population and refused any Jewish access to their holy sites.

In the weeks before the 1967 war, Egypt carried out an unprecedented military buildup along its border with Israel. The U.N. Emergency Force, stationed in the Sinai to monitor Egyptian army, abruptly departed on May 19 at the request of Egypt's President Gamel Abdul Nasser, leaving Israel to confront the looming and ominous threat. Then, on May 23, Egypt summarily closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking shipping to and from Israel's southern port of Eilat, in direct violation of international law. In a speech on May 29, Nasser's goal was plain: "Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel." He pledged to erase the Arab defeat of 1948.

For Israel, the 1967 war, like the one in 1948, was defensive, a last resort after the failure of its persistent international diplomatic efforts. The Israelis successfully defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armed forces in six days. In the fighting, Israel captured the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Immediately after the Six Day War, Israel sought to achieve a negotiated peace with its neighbors, but its quest for peace went unanswered, as it had been since the State's establishment. The Arab League Summit in Khartoum collectively responded on Sept. 1, 1967, with three "nos": no recognition, no negotiations and no peace with Israel.

During the past 36 years only two Arab heads of state have demonstrated publicly their willingness to grasp Israel's outstretched hand, Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein. The two found Israel a willing partner for peace and concluded treaties based on the landmark U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Adopted in November 1967, the resolution embraced the principle of exchanging territories captured in the Six Day War for peace within secure and recognized borders.

Resolution 242 has been the basis for every Arab-Israeli negotiation, including those in Oslo in 1993, and Madrid more than 11 years ago. But Syria has continually rejected a negotiated settlement. And three years ago, the Palestinian Authority rejected Israel's offer to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state and return more than 97 percent of the territories in Gaza and the West Bank captured in the Six Day War.

Now the "road map" brings renewed hope. Perhaps new restraint will end the relentless and systematic campaign of terrorism encouraged by much of the Palestinian leadership and a Palestinian public which glorifies the suicide bomber. Going far beyond any nationalist aspirations, politics and land disputes, this terror is fed in part by the deepening, virulent hatred toward Jews that is pervasive in Arab government-sponsored media and in school curricula.

Palestinian restraint could lead to a two-state solution. Surveys show that the majority of Israelis are willing to give up land to achieve true peace. Let us pray, as we remember 1967, that this week's meetings will finally lead to a just and lasting peace.

Barbara Glueck is executive director of the American Jewish Committee Cincinnati Chapter.

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