The Limits of the Land: How the Struggle for the West Bank Shaped the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Limits of the Land: How the Struggle for the West Bank Shaped the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Limits of the Land: How the Struggle for the West Bank Shaped the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Limits of the Land: How the Struggle for the West Bank Shaped the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Synopsis

Was Israel's occupation of the West Bank inevitable? From 1949-1967, the West Bank was the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Israelis hoped to conquer it and widen their narrow borders, while many Arabs hoped that it would serve as the core of a future Palestinian state. In The Limits of the Land, Avshalom Rubin presents a sophisticated new portrait of the Arab-Israeli struggle that goes beyond partisan narratives of the past. Drawing on new evidence from a wide variety of sources, many of them only recently declassified, Rubin argues that Israel's leaders indeed wanted to conquer the West Bank, but not at any cost. By 1967, they had abandoned hope of widening their borders and adopted an alternative strategy based on nuclear deterrence. In 1967, however, Israel's new strategy failed to prevent war, convincing its leaders that they needed to keep the territory they conquered. The result was a diplomatic stalemate that endures today.

Excerpt

Why did israel go to war on June 5, 1967? for most Israelis, particularly those old enough to remember the tense and frightening weeks before the war, the answer is simple: they had no other choice. Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser had massed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, ordered United Nations peacekeepers to leave, and closed the Straits of Tiran, Israel’s gateway to the Red Sea. Syria, Iraq, and Jordan had all prepared for war as well. Israel struck first in order to escape destruction, and nothing more. “We have no aim of conquest,” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan informed Israel’s soldiers as they readied themselves for battle. “Our sole objectives are to put an end to the Arab attempt to conquer our land and to suppress the blockade and the belligerence mounted against us…. We are a small but brave people. We want peace, but we are ready to fight for our land and our lives.”

Few Arabs believe that the Israelis acted in self-defense. They argue that the speed and magnitude of Israel’s victory in 1967 proves that the Israelis could not have feared defeat. Israel’s choice to go to war must have been rooted in something more sinister—a long-standing desire to seize all of former Mandatory Palestine. When Nasser’s advisor Mahmud Fawzi addressed the United Nations that June, he described Israel’s campaign as “carefully planned aggression,” the culmination of “the tarnished history of Israel in Arab lands, a history saturated and overflowing with aggression even—strangely enough—since before Israel was born.” Over the subsequent decades, arguments like Fawzi’s have gained almost universal acceptance in the Arab world.

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