The Impotence of Victory: The Psychology of Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Impotence of Victory: The Psychology of Arab-Israeli Conflict

THE FANTASTIC VICTORY that came so unexpectedly in June 1967 propelled Israel into a euphoric mood. All at once Zionism became immensely meaningful again. But meaningful in what sense? By Israel having obtained the longed for goal of peace on the basis of a genuine recognition by its neighbors as a natural and integrated component of the area? Or by having conquered all of the promised territory and imposed its presence with superior force upon an unreconciled foe?

The former was the prevailing mood in the early days after the war. People did not think of “reaping the fruits of victory.” They wanted to believe that “this time the Arabs have learned their lesson”—that they cannot destroy Israel. “I do not want any Arab territory,” I was told in a private conversation two or three days after the victory by the late Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. He was happy that “at last we have something we can bargain with,” meaning conquered territory, for peace.

There is likely to be much discussion in the future among historians on whether Israel was to blame for not coming forward on the morrow of its triumph with a bold, imaginative, and magnanimous offer, instead of waiting for the famous telephone call from Cairo (and Amman), or whether the Arabs deserved condemnation for closing all the avenues of a give and take through the Khartum Conference resolution, which reiterated with additional vigor all the vows of never, never.

One is constantly told by Israeli ministers that the government has passed on innumerable messages to the other side, with sufficiently clear hints for its imagination to grasp that a favorable bargain could be got. Much the same is being said by Hussein and to some extent even by Nasser. Unfortunately, what one side considers as the absolute minimum for its security and honor is seen by the other as a pistol held at its head. There is then also the obsessive conviction that diplomacy consists of bazaar haggling, and what is a far-reaching concession from our point of view becomes to the adversary at once a point of departure for asking for more. The Israelis insist on the bitter experience of Arab hostility, the Arabs decry Israeli effective and victorious expansionism. In its paranoiac self-centeredness neither side gives any thought to the fact that if you seriously mean to start negotiations you have first to think what would be acceptable and what would not be acceptable to the other side. As this is not done by either side, both are able to repeat with good conscience that there was no one to talk to on the other side and no one to whom you may give up anything.