Israel may have won the war in 1967, but it was still looking for recognition.
Israel has won the war, but there is little jubilation in Tel Aviv today as all eyes focus intently upon the more difficult battle for peace that lies ahead. Israel’s pride in the dramatic force, the amazing swiftness with which it destroyed the Arab ring of steel, bursting the bubble of Nasser’s threat of “obliteration,” is muted by two sobering considerations. The more immediate curb on celebration here is the price in human life paid for this national breathing spell. In so small a nation, so intimately integrated, few families could feel themselves remote from the front, or escape the tragedy of battle. In longer range, the Israelis perfectly understand that the other side of the victory coin they have stamped out in Sinai is the bitter humiliation of Nasser. Whatever may be said here concerning Nasser’s military skill, no one underestimates his pride. Born itself from the ashes of Hitler’s holocaust, Israel is not unconscious of the revivifying potential of humiliation and defeat. Naturally, every Israeli hopes that Nasser and his allies are capable of learning a lesson from the disaster that struck them in June, but some fear that the utter humiliation may only fan fresh flames of Arab hatred. Israel has not been lulled by victory into a mood of deceptive self-confidence.
The crucial problem confronting Israel at present is how to secure national integrity without future fighting. It hopes to retain strategic outposts captured in Jordan and Syria, as well as the Old City of Jerusalem, but fears that its startling display of military strength will in itself undermine world support for the claim that such positions are essential to its continued existence. No one speaks of attempting to remain permanently in Sinai or in the vast bulk of land taken from Jordan. Any such occupation would overextend Israel’s army and place an impossible burden upon its economy. Israelis have no desire to repeat the errors of Western Europe’s 19th-century imperial expansionism. Even if they had the resources, they express no wish to maintain martial rule over the more than 1 million Arabs living in the borderland regions their armies have overrun. What they do want is unequivocal recognition by each of their neighboring states, full and open acceptance of their national status in consonance with its reality. They insist, moreover, that international force assure them that no life line as vital to Israel’s survival as the Strait of Tiran be arbitrarily closed to them again.
Modest as these demands may seem after the spectacular victory, the Israelis recognize that neither goal will be easy to win. They fear that in the world debate oil interests and Afro-Asian votes will seek to deprive them of the advantage they have won in battle. Their anxiety today stems from recognition that in the world’s council chambers they remain virtually alone. Israelis are convinced that, until peace treaties are signed, Egypt and Syria will continue to divert their impoverished populations from the complex problems of internal development by raising the cry of “liberation for Palestine.” Diplomatic recognition would relieve the claustrophobic feeling of isolation and apprehension, and Israel is ready now to establish contacts at every level of diplomatic, economic and cultural activity with all of its Arab neighbors. People with whom I have spoken are convinced that once such relations are launched the walls of hatred, mistrust and fear will begin slowly to crumble, and through them will pass roads of cooperation and mutual respect, if not friendship.