While the world has pressed Israel for years to accept a land-for-peace formula, Dov Lipman explores the Arabs’ three noes in response to Israel’s peace offer immediately after the Six-Day War.
Demands from the international community that Israel remove its military and citizens from areas it took control of during the Six Day War ignore a simple fact: Immediately following the war, Israel was willing to do just that.
And the Arabs refused. With three noes.
In June 1967 the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan planned to attack Israel from the north, south and east. While Arab leaders made grandiose declarations regarding the imminent destruction of the Jewish state, Israelis prepared themselves for mass casualties and to fight for their lives.
Israel managed to defeat these massive armies in just six days, starting with a preemptive strike that destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground. In just six days Israel not only fought off these armies but also won control of land which these countries previously held – the West Bank, (from Jordan), the Gaza Strip (from Egypt), the Golan Heights (from Syria), and the Sinai Desert (from Egypt).
Israel never had plans to gain control over these areas and immediately following the war was prepared to remove its forces from these regions in exchange for peace with its Arab neighbors. Moshe Dayan, Israel’s then minister of defense remarked that “Israel is waiting for a phone call from the Arabs.” Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister made an open declaration at “everything is negotiable.”
The Arab League comprised of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, and Sudan met in Khartoum, Sudan from August 29, to September 1. The leaders issued a proclamation known as the Khartoum Resolution, unequivocally stating that:
The conference has agreed on the need to consolidate all efforts to eliminate the effects of the aggression on the basis that the occupied lands are Arab lands and that the burden of regaining these lands falls on all the Arab States . . .
The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of 5 June. This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country . . .
The participants have agreed on the need to adopt the necessary measures to strengthen military preparation to face all eventualities.
The resolution delineated what became known as the three noes of Khartoum.
- No peace with Israel.
- No recognition of Israel.
- No negotiations with Israel.
It is important to note that despite the final three noes, there were some proposals raised by Arab leaders at that summit.
Jordan’s King Hussein suggested that if Israel would return the West Bank, Jordan would make sure that it was demilitarized. In addition, while Jordan would not give formal recognition to Israel, it would end its state of belligerence against Israel and would allow Jews to have access to the Western Wall (officially part of the West Bank).
Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser came up with a plan in which Israel would withdraw from all the captured lands and, in return, Egypt would end its state of belligerence with Israel, allow Israeli ships to pass through the Strait of Tiran and the Suez Canal but not while flying the Israeli flag since they still would not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Neither of these suggestions were adopted by the Arab League. Nor would they have been acceptable to Israel since they did not involve direct negotiations with Israel and, more significantly, did not provide for recognition of Israel and its right to exist.
Israel’s prime minister, Levi Eshkol’s response to “the three noes” captured the only conclusion which Israel could draw:
The stand of the Arab heads of state strengthens Israel in her resolution not to permit a return to conditions that enabled her enemies to undermine her security and act against her sovereignty and her very existence.
If the Arabs would not even recognize Israel’s right to exist, their determination to destroy her would remain in place. And Israel could not withdraw to the indefensible pre-1967 borders which led to the Arabs’ planned attack in the first place.
Israel never closed the door to exchanging lands which it controlled after the Six Day War in exchange for recognition and peace. Over ten years later, Israel proved this, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt – after Egypt became the first Arab state to break from the three noes by recognizing Israel. In exchange for that recognition and a promise to end all attempts to destroy her, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which Egypt promised to demilitarize. That was land for peace — real peace.
Recognition of Israel.
End to all aggression towards Israel.
Leaving Israel with defensible borders to provide for its security.
That’s what it would have taken to bring Middle East peace between Israel and its neighbors in 1967 right after the Six Day War, and that’s what it will take to bring peace between Israel and its neighbors today.
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