Israel Considered Two-State Solution Just After Six-Day War


rabin-eshkolOn December 5, 1967, then-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Yitzchak Rabin suggested to prime minister Levi Eshkol that a Palestinian state be established in the West Bank. The minutes of that conversation are kept today in the state archives. Rabin had in mind a state “that would be connected to Israel.” Six months after the Six-Day War, this was not a subversive or particularly “leftist” idea. Rabin, who had commanded the troops during the war and was about to head to Washington as Israel’s ambassador, did not want to return the West Bank to Jordan. He looked for a way to overcome the demographic problem: “We are not going to relocate half a million Arabs,” he said. Eshkol was dubious. “Will the new state have an army?” he asked. Rabin said it would have a police force, not an army. “Who determines that?” asked Eshkol. Rabin answered: “We do.” Eshkol was not convinced and Rabin acknowledged: “It is a matter of a lesser of evils.”The idea somehow faded, emerged several years later and again disappeared. Forty-three years have passed, during which not a single serious new idea was raised that wasn’t raised since the first months after the 1967 war; 43 years of going in circles.

Public discourse occasionally did yield some suggestions, such as for a “binational” state arrangement, a “transfer” or expulsion of Palestinians, and even for turning Jordan into a Palestinian state, with or without the West Bank. The ensuing years have not brought peace any closer. In fact, they made peace more remote. In this context, one of the numerous conversations held in the interim between Israelis and Palestinians (usually abroad), is of particular interest.

In January 1990, Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Gazit met in Washington with Khaled al-Hassan, one of Fatah’s five founders. Gazit, a former chief of Military Intelligence and the first coordinator of government activities in the so-called administered territories, was by then a private citizen. As was Hassan. Gazit recently found the notes from that conversation; they convey a strong sense of a missed opportunity.

In the meeting, Gazit explained that the conditions which then existed precluded a solution to the dispute; he thought the sides should reach an interim agreement without defining the final settlement. He also said the idea of creating a Palestinian state was “unbearable” for Israel.

Hassan wondered what the problem was: Was it the political leadership? The Knesset? Public opinion? Gazit answered that it was all of them together. He complained that the Palestinians were not doing nearly enough to persuade the Israelis that they sought peace.

Hassan was disappointed. He said the Palestinians had recognized the two-state solution since the 1970s. The two did not discuss borders, or the subject of Gaza. Hassan probably assumed the Palestinians would get the West Bank. Most of the settlements that currently encumber the efforts to reach peace did not exist at that time. Jerusalem would be a capital for the two states, and most of the refugees would be compensated and would not want to return to their old homes, said Hassan. He explained that his people, too, had a problem with their opposition: “We cannot ignore the rise of Hamas. At this point it seems the majority is with us. But what about the future?” He also suggested that Israelis consider the possibility that the United States would not support them forever.

{Haaretz Service/Yair Israel}