Six days that shook the world

An Israeli historian talks about the 1967 war that shaped the modern Middle East and still fuels the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Published June 12, 2002 10:08PM (EDT)

As the Middle East crisis becomes more and more desperate, historians and journalists -- beyond debating what Israelis and Palestinians should do next -- keep looking to the past to understand what went wrong. Invariably, thinkers on both the right and left end up at Camp David, 2000, when Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's historic peace plan -- a plan that included, among other things, returning almost all of the occupied territories to the Palestinians.

But there's also a tendency to go even further back in the troubled history between these two peoples; both sides continually point to past grievances to justify their present policies. One war, the so-called Six-Day War of June 1967, has had specific ramifications for the present. The causes of that war were complex and involved many military and diplomatic misunderstandings. Israel was locked in a tense encounter with Syria, from whose territory Arafat's new al-Fatah movement launched guerrilla attacks against Israel, and Jordan. It also felt threatened by the growing number of Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula. On June 5, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Regarding this as a casus belli, Israel launched a preemptive strike that, in one of the great military triumphs of modern times, destroyed Egypt's air force in hours. After a few days of fierce fighting against Syrians, Jordanians and Egyptians, Israel had conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai from Egypt, and East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, beginning an occupation of Arab lands that has now lasted 35 years. To Arabs, the war is known as The Setback.

Michael B. Oren, who was born in the United States, served as director of Israel's Department of Inter-Religious Affairs under the late Yitzhak Rabin and is currently a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, has written what's being called the most comprehensive chronicle of this crucial turning point in contemporary Middle East history. His book, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," is an elegantly detailed, often riveting account; Oren utilizes formerly top-secret documents to explore the military and diplomatic intricacies of all sides involved -- Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, the Soviet Union and the United States. Oren has also set out to challenge some fundamental Israeli and Arab ideas about the war, including those put forth by Israeli "new historians" whom Oren suggests are led into bias by their belief that modern Israel "was created in sin."

Oren takes on many smaller issues in "Six Days of War" -- the controversial Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, the role of Israel's nuclear reactor in causing the war, the reuniting of Jerusalem, the creation of U.N. Resolution 242. But Oren's most important -- and convincing -- argument is that Israel was legitimately afraid it was about to be attacked and was thus justified in launching its preemptive strike. Against revisionists who claim that Israel's attack might have been motivated in part by the desire for territorial acquisition (some generals were unhappy that they had not seized all of the West Bank in 1948), he argues that Israel's acquisition of land previously controlled by Arabs was due to a confluence of small events and decision-making in the heat of war, rather than a concerted Israeli plan.

Oren spoke to Salon at Salon's New York office.

This is supposed to be the most comprehensive history of the war so far -- so what documents have you had access to that others have not?

Have you ever heard of the 30-year rule? It pertains to most Western democracies; after 30 years they'll declassify most formerly top-secret diplomatic correspondence. This book rode the crest of the 30-year rule. There are literally tens of thousands of documents that have been declassified in the United States and Canada and Great Britain and Israel. The U.N. archive also works under the 30-year rule. But there are no archives that are open in the Arab world. Everything's closed.

Will they ever be open?

The question is whether they exist. Nobody knows for certain. I don't know whether they take these documents and burn them.

Well, where are they?

I'm being a little facetious. There's a known Egyptian archive and a Jordanian archive. We really don't know about the Syrian archive. There's no freedom of information, no freedom of the press. But what you do have in the Arab world is a degree of transparency. You have a great number of former Arab decision makers who write their memoirs and you have independent archives that collect materials. One of the great sources for this [book] was an archive associated with Al-Ahram newspaper in Cairo. Among other documents, they had the testimony of Egyptian officers tried at the end of the war. Remember all those trials for incompetence and cowardice? Here's people telling their own stories. The stories are somewhat slanted, but if you put them all together, they get repeated. And that's when you know that something happened there.

You say in the introduction that you wanted to change the way that people looked at this war so it was never seen in the same way again. What do you mean by that? Were there certain commonly held beliefs that you wanted to challenge?

Yes, there are Israeli conventional wisdoms and Arab conventional wisdoms that I think have to be revised in light of the research. For example, the Arab wisdom was that the Egyptians never intended to attack Israel and that Israel was the first to shoot a gun. My book goes into great depth about Egyptian war plans and Jordanian war plans and Syrian war plans. They had war plans. They didn't work, but they had war plans.

On the Israeli side, one example is the myth of the liberation of Jerusalem as if it were planned, as if Israel intended to go to war against Jordan and always wanted to liberate Jerusalem. In fact, the Israeli government did just about everything not to liberate Jerusalem, which I think would come as a great shock to a lot of Israelis.

Did you set out to challenge post-Zionist, "new historian" views with your book?

Yes. There was a movement that began in the mid-'80s called the "new historians." It was championed by Avi Shlaim at Oxford and Benny Morris, who has since dropped out. [In his seminal work on the Palestinian refugee crisis and other works, Morris attacked many of the most cherished notions about Israel. But after Camp David, Morris lost faith in the good intentions of Arafat and has swung sharply to the right.)

And Tom Segev?

Well, Tom Segev is a journalist. He's not really a trained historian. Let's keep with Avi Shlaim. The new historians set out to debunk myths, to really show that Israel was responsible for everything, that Israel was created in sin. When I began to read a lot of the new historians, I found that a lot of their research was very slanted and, in some cases, distorted. If you read my book, I don't think you would find that I'm an apologist for Israel. But the time has come for us to strive for a more balanced type of scholarship.

How does your book challenge some of the ideas that the new historians have put forth?

There's a new historian theory that's been floated by radical revisionists that the government wanted to detract attention from its failures economically in the 1967 war. I found no evidence of that. A big theory is that the 1948 generation of generals that didn't conquer the West Bank wanted to start a war to conquer the West Bank. I found evidence that they wanted to conquer the West Bank, but on the contrary, not only did they not act on that, they actually gave out orders not to attack Jordan. In the British archives, I came across the letter that [Israeli prime minister] Levi Eshkol sent to [King] Hussein on the morning of June 7, 1967. He says to Hussein: If you take control of your army, if you declare an unconditional cease-fire, if you agree to some type of peace talks between us, then we will not take the Old City of Jerusalem. Now, for a Jewish leader to be this close to the Western Wall and not take it is a huge gamble. A true new historian would not be happy with that revelation.

It seems that the momentum and the short time that it took Israel to conquer these regions had a lot to do with the decision making.

This is an important lesson for the Middle East today. Rather than being the result of rational decision making and a cogent analysis of the situation, most of the Six-Day War was a result of random events, vicissitudes, miscalculations, misunderstandings and very often just plain dumb luck. A lot of dumb luck, bad and good.

And you believe that at that time those Arab states wanted to eradicate Israel completely?

Yes. There's no question about that. The question is whether they were going to act on it or not.

And the evidence that you found was that they were going to act on it. Do you believe that they were trying to draw Israel to attack them first?

[Egyptian president Gamal Abdel] Nasser preferred that Israel attack first. The Syrians preferred to fight Israel to the last Egyptian. And the Jordanians didn't want war at all, but they had no choice because they were afraid.

That seemed to be one of the more important turning points -- the Jordanians' decision to join the war.

It was a tragedy because [King] Hussein had this terrible dilemma. If he didn't join the war and Nasser lost, then everybody would say he was a traitor and they'd kill him. If Nasser won the war, the Egyptian army would continue straight across Israel and conquer Amman and they would kill him. It was a lose-lose situation. He decided that the only way out of his dilemma was to absolve himself of any responsibility for the crisis and to put his army under Egyptian command. But it was precisely that move which was the last straw for the Israelis and convinced them to go to war.

What was the Six-Day War about besides wanting to eradicate Israel? Was it about access to water? Was it about this Israeli nuclear plant?

I take issue with that. What I did find was an erroneous assumption on the part of the Israelis that the Arabs were afraid of the nuclear reactor. [The Israelis] were convinced that the nuclear reactor was going to get blown up and therefore wanted to strike first before that happened. So the nuclear reactor did have a role in the war but not in the way that you would think.

What is the legacy of the fact that Israel made the first strike? It seems like that left a huge scar on the Arab psyche.

To this day, it's a trauma they haven't gotten over. It was the first major trial of arms of the post-colonial Arab world, and they failed at it. We're dealing in a society based on honor and shame. It was a tremendous shame.

And the Arabs were better equipped militarily?

Yes. They should have done better. But in the next war [in 1973] they did better.

Today, Israel is listed as one of the third or fourth military superpowers in the world. I'm an officer in this army and I'll tell you, this is quite an army.

Did the Arab states know what they were up against?

They had no intelligence. The Israeli army is unlike any other army. We don't salute one another, everyone's on a first-name basis, it's kind of hip and kind of fun to go off for two weeks and not change your underwear and bond and the whole thing. Very macho. And it's a true meritocracy. And with all of our sophistication, with all of our massive firepower, with all of our élan and esprit de corps, a couple hundred people with C-4 explosives attached to themselves is threatening the state of Israel and there's not a lot we can do about it. All of this is a buildup to show you, ultimately, that the army is as ineffective as can be.

Do you think it was Israel's intention -- at any point -- to reunite Jerusalem and to take the West Bank?

There was a feeling among many Israeli officers who had participated in the 1948 war, where Israel had begun to take Jerusalem and the West Bank and then backed off, that they had missed this historic opportunity. Many of them felt that Israel was not defensible without the West Bank. Israel at certain points is only 8 miles wide with its back to the sea. The West Bank is high and Israel is low.

Then there was this strong Jewish feeling about reuniting Jerusalem. They were able to separate this ideal from the real because the fact of the matter is, when the war started, this express order went out: No shooting at the Jordanians. And they were even willing to absorb a lot of Jordanian fire. The Jordanians fired thousands of shots into West Jerusalem, their planes strafed Israeli cities, they bombed the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and the Israelis still did nothing. The Israelis only reacted when Jordanian forces started moving in toward West Jerusalem. That freaked them out.

Did any of the Israeli leaders have a sense of how the world might come to criticize them for occupying the territories that they gained?

The whole debate about whether to go into Jerusalem was whether the Christian world would countenance Jewish control of the Old City. Many people thought it wouldn't. Moshe Dayan [Israel's defense minister] said, "We don't need the Vatican in here." Nobody thought that Israel would permanently occupy the West Bank at that time.


[In the book,] I talk about the Israeli government's decision of June 19, 1967. In that decision they decided to give back all of the Golan Heights, all of the Sinai, in return for peace treaties and to offer the Palestinians autonomy in the West Bank leading possibly to independence and statehood. They secretly interviewed all of these Palestinian notables who said, "Listen, we'd love to do this, but if we do it, we're going to get a bullet in the head, so we can't do it." They were actually thinking of ways -- this is before any settlements were built -- of returning this land to somebody, but in a way that would break the cycle of warfare.

How soon did the settlements start after this?

Pretty soon. Within a year. The impulse for settlements is first of all strategic. It's to widen Israel. There's also a religious and ideological component to it and many of the people who were leading Israel at the time were of the generation of pioneers. They were used to making settlements. That's what they did. They got the state by making settlements. It was a continuation of a modus operandi that they understood.

Did they understand at the time what a crisis the refugee problem would be?

Yes. Levi Eshkol [Israel's prime minister] said to the government, "What are we going to do with a million Arabs?"

But do you think they felt that they'd seized an opportunity and couldn't turn back?

If you were to say to the ministers of the Israeli government in 1967 that 35 years on, we'd still be dealing with the future of the West Bank and the future of the refugees, they'd say that you're out of your mind.


Here I have to be a little critical of them. They operated under a mythical assumption that if you bopped the Arabs hard on the nose once and then show magnanimity, then the Arab world will accept you. This has not been true. For example, you give back the Sinai, but the Egyptians still aren't going to make peace with you. They may sign a treaty with you, but they're not going to make peace with you. And even the Palestinian leadership, after the Camp David accords in 2001, made it clear that the settlements aren't the issue, territories aren't the issue, Jerusalem is not the issue. The issue is Israel, whether it's going to exist or not.

Obviously, I could argue with that -- whether or not that's the ultimate issue -- but I won't drag us down that road. But do you still believe that the Arab states want to eradicate Israel?

The people want to eradicate Israel. I don't necessarily know about the states. I think there's no acceptance of Israel in the Arab world. You have to distinguish between a desire to see Israel eradicated and a willingness to eradicate it -- two different things.

Which do you think is true?

There's an almost universal desire to see Israel eradicated. It's usually the intellectual, educated classes who are the most militant. Among Arab decision makers there's no desire for war; there's no desire to act on the impulse.

Do you think that the fear of that is one of the major reasons why the Israeli government hasn't been able to disable the settlements?

Look, I'm the Israeli John Doe. And I represent between 75 and 80 percent of Israeli public opinion. As a society, we're going to give up virtually everything, but only in return for real peace. If there isn't real peace, we're not going to give up anything. That's the John Doe position.

You don't believe that the state needs to come before that kind of peace?

This is the huge debate and I have very strong feelings about it. I think that the entire peace process has been backwards. The assumption of the Oslo peace treaty was that peace would trickle down: You would make it with leaders and it would find its way through the middle class and to the working class and the peasantry. We have found that not only is this not true, but the opposite is true. You can make peace with leaders, but the desire -- the incitement and the hatred -- actually grows at the grass-roots level.

Therefore, to really make a true peace, and not to impose a peace on a rotten core, you have to build from the bottom up. Peace has to come through a prolonged phase of democratization. Democracies very rarely go to war against one another. You have to have openness and free speech. Once there's a true basis for peace, Israelis will give up whatever it takes. I don't want my kids going out and getting killed because of some hilltop somewhere. But there's no use giving up the hilltop if they're only going to use it to shoot at us.

Barak said, and I'm not such a fan of Barak, but he said, "OK, take 97 percent of the West Bank, take half of Jerusalem, we'll take all these settlements, we'll wobble them together, we'll give you some of our land as compensation for what we're taking for the settlements." That's basically the deal, right? That's the deal. Everyone knows it's the deal. The Palestinians said, "Well, this is not the deal. What we want is all our refugees to go back to Israel." If they go back to Israel, there's no more Israel. It becomes an existential question.

There's no symmetry here. Now I sound like a spokesman for the government, but John Doe Israeli says, "I recognize the Palestinian people. I recognize that the Palestinians have legitimate rights and claims. I recognize that historic wrongs have been done to the Palestinians and I'm willing to do whatever I can to right those wrongs within reasonable limits." Show me the Palestinian who's saying what I'm saying.

Which makes the Six-Day War such a fascinating and frustrating time in history because it's when all of these problems originated. Right after the 1967 war when the Arab leaders met in Khartoum, and after Resolution 242, why didn't Israel return the settlements then?

To whom? That's the question. We were willing to return territories in return for peace. We made this offer to the Syrians, to the Egyptians. They came back with the Khartoum resolution: no negotiations, no peace, no recognition. Not much maneuverability in that, is there? They tried to find Palestinians to take over an autonomous entity. They couldn't find Palestinians to take over an autonomous entity. So we just had a status quo. These were our cards that we were going to play. We're still playing them all. We gave back the Sinai. It's not as if Israel has demonstrated that it's not willing to give back every little inch.

Someone might approach your book and expect it to be mostly about Israel and the Palestinians. But there aren't many Palestinian voices. Does that show how they are pawns in a game between Israel and the Arab states, or was that a result of your research?

This is the main fault of the book.

Why didn't you get more Palestinian voices?

I wanted to get more Palestinian voices. I couldn't because of the intifada. A couple of times I risked myself to try to get Palestinian voices, but frankly the Palestinian voices that I got were off the wall. I felt very strongly about the Palestinian voices. I wanted to interview refugees. I went to meet some Palestinians one night, very late, and they started telling me: "The Israelis never took Jerusalem in 1967; they hired mercenaries from Britain and France. We saw them, we talked to them, they weren't Jewish at all. And don't you know, the Israelis aren't even Jewish. They're just refugees from Poland." I came home so distraught from this interview, not only because I had risked my life to do it but because it was completely worthless. And these were intelligent people. It was very upsetting. So I tried. You're the first person to note that, by the way. I was hoping I'd get away with it.

Do you think that the Arab states cared about the Palestinians in 1967?

I don't think they care that much about them today.

Well, that's the next question.

Kuwait kicked out 400,000 of them. [After the PLO declared its support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.] They don't care about them; they're afraid of them. They're afraid of them because the Palestinian issue threatens these monolithic regimes. It's like the brick that comes out and the whole thing falls down. That's the only reason they care about them. I have Jordanian friends who call me up and say, "Kill him. Why don't you kill him?" Meaning Arafat. The Jordanians hate Arafat far more than we do.

Eshkol refers to this Israeli inner conflict: He's convinced that Israel has the power to dominate these Arab states, but he's also just as fearful of the complete eradication of Israel. It seems as though those two feelings are at work a lot for Israelis.

Eshkol had a term for it: "Samson the Nerd." On the one hand, we're Samson; we can do everything. On the other hand, we're about to be destroyed. And those two [feelings] have characterized Israel's worldview since the day it was born. The same thing today. By the way, they're both right. Israel can do amazing things militarily, but it can be destroyed.

Do you think that after they conquered the West Bank, the Israeli leaders became enamored with their newfound power?

That's my next book. I didn't go into 1968, 1969 and 1970. To my surprise, in the aftermath of the war, I found the arrogance and the self-congratulation, but I also found tremendous introspection and feelings of guilt and sadness. Even the Western diplomats who were observing Israel at the time thought it was weird. There's a quote from Michael Hadow [the British ambassador to Israel], who was no great friend to Israel, who said how very strange it was that a country goes to war, wins a huge victory, and everyone goes back to work. Even Israelis forget that. They tend to remember the arrogance but only because we paid so heavily for that arrogance in 1973.

Do you think that the victory of 1967 led to a transformation of Israel's image in the eyes of the world ?

It went from David to Goliath.

Right. Do you think that makes it all the more difficult for Israelis to let go of the West Bank and go back to pre-1967 borders?

Good question. Let me think about that. Because remember, there's a whole generation of Israelis who don't remember 1967. Israelis in terms of their national history might be just a little bit better than Americans.

But, no, I don't think so. There's one exception and that is the religious camp. Certain religious Jews, nationalist religious Jews -- interestingly enough like a lot of evangelical Christians in this country -- assign messianic ramifications to the Six-Day War. They view it as a steppingstone to the age of redemption. God intervened. They're the exception. For example, today is Jerusalem Day, where mostly the religious Jews march to Jerusalem and celebrate the liberation of the Old City. That, for them, is a religious event.

In the book, there's a comment made by Abba Eban, Israel's foreign minister at the time, that there was no turning back the clock after this war. Do many Israelis feel that way?

He meant that there's no turning back the clock now; if you want the land back, you have to make peace. In 1967, that was a radical notion. Today, we assume land for peace even though Resolution 242 doesn't say that.

What does it say?

It says "land" without the "the," for the recognition that every state in the Middle East has the right to live with peace within recognized and defensible borders. It never says that the Arabs have to make peace with Israel. Which is why the Saudi peace plan is a very significant move. It's the first time the Saudis not only say they're going to make peace but that they're going to normalize, which really isn't in 242.

Do you think that the Saudis are sincere?

That is a different question than whether or not I think the Saudi peace plan is interesting. I think the Saudis are scared shitless. Fourteen Saudis killed 3,000 Americans. I'd be scared.

Do you think Sharon has a peace plan?

I think Sharon has an interim plan, which again, Joe Israeli would say is probably the best thing to do now. Because if you're going to impose a state on the situation, it's going to be awful. It will implode.

Some people on the left fear that this is getting driven toward the type of situation where the only option is for the Palestinians to be pushed out. Do you think that's possible?

Only within a huge war. Where cities are wasted.

Did Sept. 11 reinforce for Israelis that the Arab world is a real threat to their existence?

Yes. There is an element that Israel is an outpost of the West. You ever been there?

No, I haven't.

It looks like New Jersey. Israel is very American and looks American. Our press is very American. Our system of government in its ethos is very American. People look kind of American. And it is in sharp contrast to what's around it. So it's easy to see ourselves as an outpost of the West, embattled by this hostile civilization.

America's involvement in the Six-Day War was not what Israel expected. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of what's going on now.

The whole situation reminds me a lot of what's going on now.

In what way?

It's the same Arafat, the same al-Fatah, trying to drag the Arab world into some type of conflict with Israel. And it succeeds. You have the U.N. in an adversarial relationship with Israel. You have the United States involved, today, in a military entanglement in the East -- albeit with Islam rather than the entanglement in Vietnam in 1967. Those two prior commitments have hindered American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As John Doe Israeli, do you believe that Arafat is a partner for peace?

Arafat's a problem. What I really think is that it's not a question of Arafat and Sharon. There's been this tendency to try to personalize this conflict.

Why don't you think that fits?

It's completely off base. This is a fight between two peoples. Sharon reflects the Israeli people right now, not because we love him, but because he's doing what the people want. He's doing what he was elected to do. Arafat reflects the Palestinians as well. There has to be a change on the Palestinian side. This is not to say that everything we do is so nice or hunky-dory, but there has to be change on the Palestinian side that they're willing to live with us. Arafat reflects the unwillingness to live with us. He's a problem.

With each suicide bombing, do Israelis still believe Sharon's offensive is helping the situation?

In 1967, Israelis left their tractors to go off and fight because they were convinced that Israel faced a threat to its existence. In 2002, Israelis left their computer terminals to do exactly the same thing. The mobilization was so successful beyond anybody's imagination; they ran out of guns and uniforms. Five thousand people volunteered for reserve service. It's a different type of threat -- not of destruction of cities, but a destruction of society. In many ways, a more dire threat. There was almost no opposition to Sharon because it wasn't Sharon doing it. The country made this decision to go to war. Sharon enjoys 85 percent approval rates, not because we love him, but because he represents a policy line that we can't take issue with right now. The minute there is a viable peace alternative, then you're going to have demonstrations in Israel from the right and the left. You don't have that now.

How do Israelis feel about Bush and his involvement so far?

Ambivalent to good. The good part is that when Bush is Manichean -- when he's saying that there are good guys and bad guys and you're with us or against us -- Israelis like it because we obviously see ourselves as "with us." When the issues get gray and muddled, then Bush seems to lose direction, in the Israeli perception.

What's become muddled? [The Americans] want to have a war with Iraq. They can't have a war with Iraq unless there's a modicum of stability in the Arab world. They need the Saudis, they need the Kuwaitis, and in order to get the Saudis and the Kuwaitis, they have to pressure Israel. There's no other way they can do this other than pressuring Israel. And we don't like it.

What do you wish that the U.S. would do? Do you want Bush to be very involved?

I want him to be very involved. Hmmm. No one's ever asked me that question ...

Do you think we made a mistake being so hands off at first?

No, not necessarily. Clinton had taken it to a ridiculous extreme. I mean, Arafat had visited the White House more often than any other foreign leader. It's good to keep people a little hungry, don't you think?

I'd like Bush to understand our predicament. To understand that as a democratic society, we cannot be bombed and not respond. The society will not countenance it. Bush has displayed a tremendous amount of understanding with that. I want him to understand -- and I sound like a broken record -- that imposing a state on the Palestinians now before they are ready to assume that state in a situation of mutual recognition and coexistence would be a mistake. And in fact that stop-gap measure will end up being the source of far greater controversy in the future. I'm absolutely convinced of this. And I'm saying this as someone who genuinely wants a solution to the Palestinian problem. They have to be ready for it.

For nine years now, since the Oslo accords, the Palestinians have had significant amounts of autonomy, a lot of the trappings of sovereignty. There has been, in the Palestinian camp, absolutely no discussion of what their society is going to look like, what kind of government they want to have. They're so consumed with being victims and the things that are done to them that they never sit down to discuss what they're about.

Do you think Israel has done everything they can to help them along in that way?

No. To the contrary, we've done tremendous things against it. First, we brought in Arafat. We brought in a dictator. We impose this corrupt regime on them that took hundreds of millions of dollars that were given to the Palestinians for development and siphoned it off into Swiss bank accounts somewhere. You go to Gaza and you see where all the military leaders live. Arafat has 17 different militias -- they live in these huge villas and the rest of the people live in hovels. And we bear a lot of responsibility. We did it. We did it because we wanted to bring in a thug who would stop Hamas. That's what Oslo was about.

But was there an alternative at the time?

We tried. Back in the period of the Oslo-Madrid peace conference, we tried to get local Palestinians to assume responsibility. They were afraid, they wouldn't do it, etc. So disappointing. And the settlements don't help anything. But they're not the issue.

You really don't think they're the issue?

The Palestinians say that it's not the issue.

Do you think that's because their hatred and frustration has developed into something else at this point?

No. I can't say that Camp David was full of hatred. They were getting along quite well. It came down to the fundamental issue of mutual existence and legitimacy. That is what links 1967 to today.

By Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, a former editor at Salon, is an editor at the New York Observer.

MORE FROM Suzy Hansen

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Author Interviews Books Middle East