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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The memories of 1967

Martin Kramer discusses what the memories of 1967 really mean to the Arabs.
The memory of 1967 thus became the basis of an implicit understanding between the regimes and the peoples: the regimes will avert war, and in return the people will stay loyal, even docile. The regimes have upheld their end, by gradually coming to terms with Israel, and by leaving the Palestinians to fight their own fight. Pan-Arabism—which largely meant sacrificing for the Palestinians—faded away because no Arabs were prepared to risk losing a war for them. The skill of rulers in averting war has helped to secure and entrench them.

I call this understanding implicit—it doesn't have an ideological underpinning. Pragmatism rarely does. But the evidence for it is that no Arab state has entered or stumbled into war with Israel in over thirty years. The memory of the 1967 trauma has been translated into a deep-seated aversion to war, which underpins such peace and stability as the region has enjoyed. 1967 thus marks the beginning of the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict—the conflict between Israel and Arabs states, which had produced a major war every decade. 1973 marks the end of the end, in which two Arab states stole back some honor and territory, precisely so they could lean back and leave Israelis and Palestinians to thrash out their own differences. This narrower Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a sore, but its costs have been limited compared to a state-to-state war.

It is important to note that pan-Arabism did survive elsewhere in the Arab world, where its illusions continued to exact a very high cost. I refer to Baathist Iraq, which wasn't defeated in 1967, and where pan-Arabism continued to constitute one of the ideological pillars of the regime, vis-à-vis Iran and the West. There it also led to miscalculation, war, and defeat, on a truly massive scale. The Iraq wars—there have been three in the last three decades—provide a striking contrast to the relative stability in Israel's corner of the Middle East—a stability which rests, I suggest, on the Arab memory of 1967, which restructured Arab thinking in the states surrounding Israel, away from eager anticipation of war, and toward anxiously averting it.

So in regard to Arab politics, I have offered a possible revision of the usual view of 1967: perhaps its memory, far from making the Arabs angry and volatile, underpins the stability of the Arab order and regional peace. If so, then perhaps we should recall it as a year of net benefit all around—as compared, say, to 1979, the year of Iran's revolution, or 2003, the year of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The impact of 1967 was to create a new balance, and push ideology to the margins of politics. The impact of 1979 and 2003 has been to unbalance the region and strengthen radical ideologies. 1967 ultimately produced a process that led to the finalizing of borders between states. The combined impact of 1979 and 2003 threatens to erase borders from the map.

The risk today, over forty years later, is not that the consequences of 1967 are still with us. It is that memory of 1967 is starting to fade, and its legacy is being eroded. I am struck by the subtitles of the two leading books on 1967. Michael Oren's is June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Tom Segev's goes even further: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. If only it were so. The problem is that the Middle East continues to be remade and transformed by subsequent events, whose legacy is much more damaging than the legacy of 1967.

What then happens when the Arab world is dominated by generations that no longer remember 1967 or, more importantly, no longer think Israel capable of reenacting it? What memories are replacing the memory of 1967? The 2006 summer war in Lebanon? (To rework Kerr's analogy, that was like Columbia playing Notre Dame to a draw.) Without the memory of that defeat of forty years ago, the ranks of the Islamists could swell with people who imagine victory. Without the fear of war, peoples could turn away from those rulers who have made peace—away from the implicit understanding that underpins order. Will it be possible to build stability and peace on other memories, or other promises?
Read the whole thing.

I have two takeaways from Kramer's piece. He alludes to the first one and says nothing about the second.

First, Israel's Arab neighbors will not come to the 'Palestinians' defense and therefore Israel can deal with the 'Palestinians' directly without feeling that we need to also satisfy the Arab countries (which does not mean that we will not have to deal with the out-of-power terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbullah - only that we are unlikely to face all out war from Syria, Egypt or Jordan under the current status quo). If we cut a deal with the 'Palestinians' for less - even much less - than all of Judea and Samaria, Egypt, Syria and Jordan will not care. Of course, Syria will not make a deal with us for less than all of the Golan Heights, but that would be suicidal for Israel. Syria will not attack us directly in any event, so we can afford to continue the stalemate we have had with them for the last 35 years.

Second, giving away most or all of Judea and Samaria - whether to an Arab country or to the 'Palestinians' - may weaken the deterrence Israel has had in place since 1967 and embolden the Arab regimes to think that we may be defeated. It is the one thing that could convince them that they have nothing to lose in attacking us again. Giving away most or all of that territory would be a serious mistake for Israel.


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