Forty years ago, Israel won one of the most unlikely military victories in history. The Jewish nation’s triumph over its Arab neighbors in the Six Day War was a stunning blow from which the world is still reeling. Sadly, four decades have not made Israel more secure, and many Israelis now concede that they are better warriors than peacemakers. But they should not shoulder the blame alone for the continuing violence in that troubled part of the world: Palestinians and other Arabs have been more interested in nurturing grievances than laying a foundation for peace.

It is hard to remember how Israel was seen by the world 40 years ago. The tiny nation was considered a country of victims, survivors of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. They were surrounded by hostile neighbors who had never accepted Israel’s right to exist and, armed with the most modern Soviet weapons, vowed to drive them into the sea. Israel’s very existence was in doubt.

In the spring of 1967, Egyptian forces mobilized to counter the nonexistent threat of an Israeli preemptive attack and its allies moved troops to forward positions to open second fronts when the fighting began. Fearing annihilation, Israeli forces struck first on June 4, 1967, destroying the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian air forces before they could take flight. Egyptian tank forces were routed in the Sinai desert, and retreated. Shelled by Jordanian artillery, Israeli ground forces seized the old city of Jerusalem, uniting it for the first time since 1948, along with the west bank of the Jordan River. Having secured those two fronts, Israeli forces turned north and took the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, from Syria.

This stunning victory was achieved in six days. Israel conquered 108,780 sq. km of territory, nearly three times the size of the original state. This was achieved at a cost of 759 Israeli casualties, while some 15,000 Arabs died.

In fact, the real price was much greater. Conquest transformed Israel. As its more visionary leaders warned, the country would become an occupier, holding onto land claimed by millions of Palestinians and Arabs, and the need to pacify them would transform a conflict into a bitter civil war and would change Israelis themselves. Those words of caution were drowned out by zealots, who saw the victory in 1967 as a sign that they were truly “the chosen people” and destined to control the Holy Lands, and nationalists who only believed in strength and felt they could force their neighbors — and the world — to accept peace on Israel’s terms. They did not recognize that their intransigence would shift Israel’s image from victim to victimizer.

Israel’s failure to accept the need to compromise has been matched by an equally damaging failure among Arabs and Palestinians. They have preferred to nurture grievances against Israel and suspicions among themselves rather than reach out and establish the partnership that is the essential ingredient of peace in the Middle East. The Palestinian leadership is deeply divided, with Islamic militants opposed to peace with Israel fighting secular Palestinians who seem more concerned with their perks than the plight of ordinary people.

Palestinian posturing and intransigence provide Israel’s rightists with the justification they need to impose harsh measures on Palestinians, expand settlements and refuse to negotiate or consider compromise. Over 250,000 Israelis now live in West Bank settlements, turning them into occupiers and creating an infrastructure that fragments the remaining Palestinian territory and ensures that any Palestinian authority will be economically nonviable. Two intifadas, and accompanying scenes of Palestinians celebrating Israeli tragedies, have hardened hearts and convinced many that Palestinians prefer terrorism to peace.

The cost of the standoff has been horrific. In addition to the thousands of lives lost, there is the billions of dollars that have been diverted from basic human needs to security, the incalculable amount of diplomatic resources spent on negotiations, and the psychic toll on Israelis and Palestinians created by living for decades in fear and suppression.

The only basis for sustained peace is a two-state solution. Israel must be prepared to give up more of the land seized in 1967, and move yet more of the settlements so that any Palestinian state will be a real country, rather than a scattering of territories united in name only. In return, the Palestinians, and other Arab states, must be prepared to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and take measures to ensure that their territories are not used to attack Israel. Real peace is a cooperative venture in which all countries must play a part. Jerusalem will have to become an international city, in which all faiths are free to worship and no one religion has dominion over the others. Only when this deal — or one like it — is in place, will the Six Day War truly be over.

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