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Impact of the Six-Day War on Israel, 50 years later

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From left: Gilead Sher, Monti Inbari, Elie Rekhess and Paul Rivlin. (Photo: Jack Schwada/ UCLA.)

Israeli experts addressed the multidimensional impacts of the Six-Day War of 1967 on Israel at a recent Y&S Nazarian Center panel discussion.

“Today's borders and status quo are unsustainable: militarily, diplomatically and morally. It is time for Israel to take the initiative…. Israel must draw its borders while disengaging from the Palestinians by renewing negotiations — regionally, bilaterally and independently. In other words, with or even without a comprehensive agreement in sight." Gilead Sher

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, May 25, 2017 — At a panel discussion hosted by the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies on May 4, four Israeli experts addressed the legacy of the Six-Day War in Israel. The event was cosponsored by the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

The war — during which Israel directly fought Egypt, Jordan and Syria, together with Iraqi troops — lasted from June 5 to June 10, 1967 and ended in a decisive Israeli victory. Israel took possession pf the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Israeli losses were few, but Arab losses were substantial.

Gilead Sher, an attorney, former senior Israeli peace negotiator (1991–2001) and former chief of staff and policy coordinator for former Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, addressed the war’s long-term political legacy. Motti Inbari, associate professor of religion, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, traced the evolution of the messianic Zionist beliefs that have driven the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Historian Elie Rekhess, Crown Visiting Professor in Israel Studies at Northwestern University, examined the impact of the war and subsequent political developments on the Arab Israeli population. And economist Paul Rivlin, senior fellow, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, analyzed the economic development of Israel since the war.

Zionist conundrum

As a consequence of the 1967 war, Israel has ruled Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for 50 years — an eventuality never envisioned by Zionism or the Zionist founders of Israel, said Gilead Sher. He insisted that a two-state solution remained the only option for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and preserving Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Accordingly, he urged Israel to adopt a pro-active, graduated approach that would establish a two-state reality first in fact, and eventually, by permanent agreement.

“Today's borders and status quo are unsustainable: militarily, diplomatically and morally,” said Sher. “It is time for Israel to take the initiative…. Israel must draw its borders while disengaging from the Palestinians by renewing negotiations — regionally, bilaterally and independently,” he continued. “In other words, with or even without a comprehensive agreement in sight.

“Such steps will allow [for the preservation of] the conditions for a two-state solution through the gradual creation of a two-state reality,” he added. “They can take the form of political interim agreements, gradual processes with transitional phases, along with a pragmatic, uncompromising approach to counter terrorism and violence.”

Of note, Sher judged that a trilateral approach to security cooperation among Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel would be more stable than any strictly bilateral arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He also encouraged the United States to lead a Marshall Plan for Palestinian development in partnership with the Arab quartet of relatively moderate Sunni Arab states [Jordan, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia], together with Israel and the Palestinians.

With respect to process, Sher urged Israel to abandon its insistence on preconditions for negotiations and to replace the past paradigm of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” with a more gradual paradigm of “what has been agreed should be implemented. Such an approach,” he continued, “would provide the grounds for an arrangement on boundaries, security, statehood and the economy.”

Israel, he said, should take a number of concrete actions, including issuing a statement that Israel has no long-term sovereignty claims outside the main settlement blocks in the West Bank; halting construction outside those blocks; preparing Israeli public opinion for the need “to take decisive action for the sake of Zionism” and seek a peace agreement; working to improve Palestinian lives; and initiating an effort to rehabilitate Gaza with support of the international community, with a special role for Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Reminding the two sides that they could always go back to killing each other, Sher concluded, “[P]rotracted conflicts have come to an end. It is in our hands.”

From left: Gilead Sher and Monti Inbari. (Photo: Jack Schwada/ UCLA.)

The post-1967 messianic path of religious Zionists

“Zionism was a great dilemma for Orthodox Judaism because… in the Jewish tradition,” explained Motti Inbari, “it was understood that all those things that the Zionists were implementing were things that would take place eventually at the End of Days when the Messiah would come and perform miracles.”

Rabbi Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Cook (1865–35), the first chief rabbi of the Zionist movement, solved this dilemma by positing the idea that Zionism represented the first steps of the redemption of the Jewish people. The role of his successor and son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891–1982) “was to implement his father’s theories into political action,” said Inbari, “a moment that came after the 1967 war and the Jewish conquest of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and, most importantly, the Temple Mount.”

The victorious 1967 war and the conquest of Holy Lands reinforced the idea that Zionism was indeed a messianic process, he noted, and “[gave] rise to a young generation of religious Zionists who would go on to establish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.“

Rabbi Yehuda Kook, for example, became the spiritual father of the Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) movement, which was responsible for the first settlements. Yet the idea of territorial compromise eventually caused a schism between religious Zionists and the state of Israel. With the exception of East Jerusalem, which was annexed, Israel has ruled the other lands it acquired in the Six-Day War as occupied territory. That is, the state has held out the idea that the lands would eventually be returned as part of a “land-for-peace” compromise.

Religious Zionists who have driven the sustained expansion of Israeli settlements, first in Gaza (abandoned during Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of 2005) and then the West Bank, have responded in different ways to the idea of territorial compromise, said Inbari. Some have admitted a religious mistake and retreated from messianism (e.g., Rabbi Yehuda Amital). Others have abandoned Zionism altogether for Ultra-Orthodoxy (e.g., Rabbi Shmuel Tal).

Still others have argued that the messianic path to redemption is indeed moving forward, but in heaven, not on earth. According to Inbari, the vast majority of the settlers have adopted this approach (which he called “the statist approach”). Their solution has been mass outreach to secular Israeli society, believing that outreach will help them gain support for the settlements and convince Israeli society of the dangers that territorial compromise holds for the redemption of the Jews. Rabbis Shlomo Aviner and Zvi Tau have actively espoused this approach, said Inbari, with Aviner creating the mass proselytization effort known as “Settling in the House.”

The fourth and most radical response among religious Zionists has been “forcing the end,” said the speaker, that is, abandoning any hope of redemption at the hands of the secular state and resolving instead to take control of it. This can be done either by entering politics, winning power and eventually establishing a theocracy (e.g., Jewish Leadership Movement) or by withdrawing from the state in order to gather strength and conquer it (e.g., Rabbi Itzhak Ginzburg).

Inbari concluded his analysis by citing the words Gershom Scholen, an historian of Jewish mysticism: “There is something grand about living in hope, but at the same time there is something profoundly unreal about it. This lessons serves as a warning to Zionism.”

The evolving identity of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel

The Six-Day War resulted in a profound, overwhelming identity crisis for both Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, said Elie Rekhess. Today, he noted, this minority (together with the Druze) comprises roughly 21 percent of the Israel’s population (about 1.8 million people). From 1948 to 1967, said the speaker, the Arab minority was “relatively subdued” due to the traumatic loss of Palestine, the impact of military rule (imposed through 1966) and their physical isolation from the rest of the Arab world, among other reasons.

As the Arab minority in Israel were reunited with other Palestinian Arabs from whom they had been physically separated after the 1948 war, “[their reunion] led to a reconstruction and revivification of a Palestinian consciousness and a solidification of the Palestinian component in their national identity,” said the historian. As a result, he added, the 1970s saw “a vigorous activism replace the more passive, quietist approach of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Many factors then contributed to building up the Palestinian component of their identity. Rekhess pointed in particular to the ascendance of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the armed PLO struggle in Israel and abroad (and the short-lived engagement of Arab Israelis in this struggle), the horrendous outcome of the 1973 War for Israel, the recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people at the Rabat Summit (1974) and the PLO’s achievement of observer status in the UN (1975). Later, the first intifada (1987–91) gave an added impetus to these trends.

As the Palestinian identity of the Arab minority grew stronger, observed Rekhess, their demand for self-determination surged. Yet, he reflected, “Palestinianization was not a mutually exclusive process in the sense that it categorically outweighed or eliminated Israelization. It wasn’t a zero-sum game. On the contrary, parallel to the reformulation of national identity and political affiliation, the Arab minority under[went] an intensive process of socioeconomic change, modernization, and Westernization….” That change included a substantial improvement in living standards.

The peace process of the 1990s witnessed Israel’s recognition of the PLO, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the fulfillment of what Rekhess called the “external dimension of the political platform of the Arabs in Israel.” However, he remarked, “Gradually we see intellectuals and political elites realize that a future Palestinian state would not necessarily fulfill the national aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs is Israel.” This realization ultimately led to a “re-opening of the 1948 file” and a new self-definition of the Palestinians in Israel as “an indigenous minority or a homeland minority existing within a colonial entity,” said the speaker.

For the Arab minority, argued Rekhess, there is a built-in contradiction between the idea of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state. Arab academics, he explained, “believe the incompatibility between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature can be resolved… by either setting up a state for all its citizens, [or by] autonomy, [or by] most popularly so, a binational state.

“[O]ne thing is clear,” concluded the historian, “when Israel reaches an agreement — with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, whatever — it will still have to handle the challenge of being Jewish and democratic with a sizable Arab Palestinian minority in its midst.

“[A]s far as I’m concerned,” he said, “I think it’s very simple: ‘If you want to stay in the state of Israel, you are most welcome — you are Israeli citizens. But you cannot keep on undermining the very legitimacy of the state of Israel according to the trends that we have being seen recently.’”

From left: Elie Rekhess and Paul Rivlin, (Photo: Jack Schwada/ UCLA.)

From threatened country to regional powerhouse

Prior to the Six-Day War in 1967, said Paul Rivlin, Israel had a total population of 2.8 million and was living through its deepest recession since 1948. “It was a tiny, threatened country,” he remarked, “The war transformed it overnight into a regional power with widely perceived technological and organizational prowess.”

The economist cautioned against over-estimating Israel’s military organizational prowess, claiming this capability goes up and down in all countries. But he said the country’s rapid economic growth after the 1967 war was both impressive and sustained. “Confidence is a key factor in investment and this is what the war resulted in,” he said. In 1968 alone, the Israeli economy grew by 14 percent.

“From 1967 to 2015,” he said, “Israeli national income increased twelvefold, from US$ 33 billion to US$ 380 billion in constant prices — that’s real progress,” he said. Over the same period, “The population tripled to 8.5 million and the national income per head [went] from US$ 1,100–US$ 1,200 to almost US$ 35,000 — a 29-fold increase,” he continued. “It’s amazing that Israel was able to join OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], the club of the rich, in 2010.”

The rapid economic growth that followed the 1967 war was accompanied by much higher defense spending and a significant expansion of Israel’s military industries, said the speaker. Over time, that spending became a smaller percentage of gross national income, but remains too high in his estimation. The military industry expansion, together with the close links forged between the U.S. and Israeli economies when the U.S. became the country’s chief weapons supplier, laid the groundwork for the later emergence of Israel’s high-tech sector.

Social spending also grew by leaps and bounds after the war, primarily to address the housing, welfare and education needs of alienated and underprivileged Sephardic Jews in response to unrest between them and Ashkenazi European Jews who had ruled Israel since its founding. “All this resulted in much higher budget deficits and faster inflation — problems that were pushed aside because the economy was growing so fast,” he said.

For Riviln, the most important outcome of the war was that “[Israel] took on responsibility for 600,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and nearly 400,000 in Gaza — a total of almost a million people that Israel was going to manage the affairs of and rule over,” he said.

“When the 1973 war came on,” he continued, “it brought economic growth to a halt and Israel faced massive problems of budget deficits, balance of payments deficits, debt problems and also inflation. One of the factors that contributed to this budgetary pressure,” he pointed out, “was the construction of settlements in Sinai and Gaza and in West Bank.

“But the change in the politics [i.e., the 1973 election that saw power shift from the left to the right in Israel] placed greater emphasis on the construction of settlements in the West Bank,” said Rivlin. “In 1972, there were 1,500 Jews living in all the territories taken in 1967. By 1983, there were 24,000, and in 2015, excluding the annexed parts of Jerusalem, there were 385,000.”

Rivlin ended by sharing demographic figures for Israel with the audience:


“You can make what you like of those figures — and those are figures that are hotly debated… in many circles in Israel and abroad — but I am bringing them to you because they are the consequence of the 1967 war,” he said.


Although the speakers addressed different impacts of the Six-Day War, their analysis of developments in Israel over the subsequent 50 years revealed multiple unresolved challenges: a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a religious Zionist movement at odds with the idea of territorial concessions, a growing Palestinian Arab population in the Occupied Territories, an assertive Arab minority within Israel and continued high defense expenditures due to the ongoing conflict and occupation.

In the words of Gilead Sher, “Israel has reached globally outstanding achievements in almost every field... while absorbing millions of immigrants. However, these 50 years also saw an incremental erosion of our fathers’ vision: an ongoing internal struggle over Jewish and human values and the identity of Israeli society.”

For a more comprehensive report on the event, download:

Download file:Comprehensive_article_1967_war-ft-u2q.pdf