Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Coming Back Full Circle: The Palestinian Option in 1967

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Coming Back Full Circle: The Palestinian Option in 1967

Article excerpt

This article examines and explains the initial choice of the Palestinian option made by Israeli policy makers, and the factors that led them to abandon it and to adopt the Jordanian option instead. An examination of the conditions and circumstances existing in the first year following the June 1967 War reveals that the chances of the Palestinian option were poor from the outset. Despite the fact that Israeli policy makers believed it to be practicable, the Palestinian option was doomed to failure because of factors over which they had no control.

THE signing of the Declaration of Principles by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), on 13 September 1993, brought Israeli policy on the Palestinian problem and the political future of the occupied territories back to the point at which it had started in June 1967--back to the Palestinian option. In deciding to sign the declaration with PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin made a strategic choice to recognize the legitimacy of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, rather than the government of Jordan. The decision by the Israelis to drop the Jordanian option was a recognition and an admission of the failure of Israeli governments, including the one headed by Rabin himself two decades ago (1974-77), to grapple with the Palestinian problem.

The accepted approach among researchers is that the Israeli policy based on the Jordanian option--according to which the Palestinian problem would be solved by granting King Husayn of Jordan limited control over most of the territory of the West Bank--had its beginnings immediately after the occupation of the West Bank in June 1967. This approach maintains that Israeli leaders became captivated by the Jordanian option and did not consider different political options in their attempt to deal with the Palestinian problem.(1) The Labor Alignment governments headed by Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol (1967-69), Golda Meir (1969-74), and Yitzhak Rabin (1974-77) did, indeed, adopt the Jordanian option. This article, however, will attempt to demonstrate that the Jordanian option policy was formulated and adopted about a year after the end of the June 1967 War, and only after attempts to realize the Palestinian option had failed. In fact, the Palestinian option was the first choice of Israeli policy makers.

The author will analyze this initial choice made by Israeli policy makers, and the factors that led them to abandon it and decide to adopt the Jordanian option instead. An examination of the conditions and circumstances existing in the first year following the June 1967 War reveals that the chances of the Palestinian option were poor from the start and doomed to failure because of factors over which the policy makers had no control. It would take a quarter of a century and substantial changes in the processes of consolidating Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian societies and political apparatuses before Israeli policy makers could complete the circle, abandon the Jordanian option, and adopt their initial first choice--the Palestinian option.

THE FORMULATION OF THE PALESTINIAN OPTION

The beginning of the process of determining policy on the preferred option can be observed at the cabinet meetings that began on 16 June 1967, almost immediately after the war, and ended with the strategic decision made on 19 June. In the discussions during these meetings, most of the cabinet ministers supported the Palestinian option. The proposals made by the participants ranged from Palestinian autonomy to an independent state on the West Bank. The tone supporting the Palestinian option was set by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Minister of Labor Yigal Allon, as well as by minister without portfolio Yisael Galili, whose opinions greatly influenced his colleagues in the cabinet. Statements made by the senior policy makers at the 19 June cabinet meeting, at which the strategic decision was made, reveal that they viewed the Palestinian option as the only possible basis for Israeli policy on the future of the West Bank. …

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