Israel’s mythological foreign minister of days gone by, Abba Eban, is quoted widely as having said once: “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Whilst there is more than a grain of truth in this, Israel has had its own respectable share of missed opportunities, the most notable and tragic, no doubt, being the aftermath of the 1967 Six Days War.
Just as the echoes of battle were dying out, Israel’s then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, very recently appointed to his role and resting on the laurels of an incredible victory planned and achieved by others (most notably Chief of Staff Major General Yitzhak Rabin and Air Force commander and later Deputy Chief of Staff General Ezer Weitzman) and to which he contributed very little, said in his typical arrogant style: “I am waiting for a phone call from the Arabs.”
The phone call never came. In time, Egypt and Syria implemented the lessons they have learnt from their humiliating defeat and launched their devastating surprise attack on Yom Kippur, October the 6th, 1973.
But back to 1967. The end of the war found Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, two territories densely populated by Palestinians, many of them still living in the same refugee camps established after the end of the 1948 Independence War.
With wisdom, courage and vision, the same type of wisdom, courage and vision that brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ten years later to Jerusalem to seek lasting peace, Israel could have turned its resounding military victory into a no less important regional and international political and economic achievement. The face of the Middle East would have been very different today.
With international support and money which was so much more easily available in those heydays, Israel could have launched a Marshal-type program aimed at transforming, completely and irreversibly, the lives of the Palestinian population. Rather than being viewed as an occupier, Israel could have become the liberator of Palestinians from the oppressive and tyrannical Egyptian and Jordanian rule that did very little for them for nearly 20 years.
A massive modern building program could have seen the refugee camps transformed or demolished. A large investment in education, commerce, agriculture, science, medicine and manufacturing could have brought together Israeli and Palestinian skills, talents and abilities and could have had a major beneficial economical impact on their lives. “Suicide bombing? rocket launching? you must be joking!” would say the average Palestinian to Iran’s extremist messengers urging participation in terror attacks. “Why? what for? my life has never been better! don’t rock the boat!”
Of course, all this would also entail establishing a politically independent Palestinian national entity, the nature of which could have taken many forms. It would however be done for mutual benefit, with Israel’s blessing and co-operation, rather than being rammed down its throat 45 years later in very different regional and international circumstances.
Israel’s leaders to their generations were never renowned for their wise, courageous and visionary initiatives. Let’s hope they are not still waiting for that phone call from the Arabs. It will not come anytime soon.