The Territories After the Six-Day War

An overview of Israel's relationship to the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

Print this page Print this page

At the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a land dispute--and in order to understand that dispute, it is necessary to know the history of the territory in question. The following article, part two of a four-part series on the topic, discusses the dispute over the territories as it evolved between the years 1967 and 1981. It was published in 1998, and is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Agency.

1967-77

There were different and even conflicting views within the government on the issue of the territories. 

There were those such as the finance minister, Pinhas Sapir, or the foreign minister, Abba Eban, who argued that incorporation of the territories would lead to economic dependence on cheap Arab labor or isolate Israel diplomatically. Members of some of the more hawkish parties, accompanied by certain voices within the Labor party, emphasized the historical and strategic significance of the territories. For the first time in 19 years, Israel's economic and demographic center would be out of the range of Arab artillery. Any attempt at invasion or air attack could be stopped before damage was caused to Israeli cities. Control of the Golan Heights released the Israeli settlements below from the constant Syrian shelling and sniping.

gazaProbably the most influential member of cabinet was the defense minister, Moshe Dayan, who emphasized three points:

1. maintenance of security within the territories through the creation of a military government and a network of army bases;

2. normalization of Arab life by allowing Arab residents to maintain their Jordanian, Egyptian, or Syrian citizenship and through the inauguration of an "open bridges" policy that would allow visitors and goods to cross the border between Israel and Jordan;

3. the right of Jews to settle in the territories, which necessitated Israeli investment in infrastructure and encouragement of business and industry in the territories.

A plan was drawn up along these lines by Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. In the West Bank/Judea-Samaria, a belt of Israeli settlements was to be established along the mostly uninhabited Jordan Valley in order to prevent any attempt at invasion from the East. A corridor at Jericho would allow movement between Jordan and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria.

Jewish settlements in the Etzion Bloc, conquered by Arabs during the 1948 war, would be re‑established. Due to its strategic importance, the Golan was to be settled and kept for the most part under Israeli control. A few military outposts would be established in the Gaza Strip.

While most of the Sinai was ultimately to be returned to Egypt, the Rafiah Salient--which later included the town of Yamit and several moshavim [semi-collective communities]--was to remain in Israeli hands. Israel would interfere as little as possible in the lives of the Arab population which was to be permitted to govern itself in some form. Although the proposal was never officially adopted, it did serve as a basic plan for settlement in the territories.

Israel established a military government to administer the territories. The legal system which had been in effect was maintained, although additional ordinances were adopted by the military government, especially in the interest of maintaining security. At the head of the administration stood the defense minister, who delegated authority to a coordinator of activities in the territories and to regional military governors. The military government took on all of the normal functions of state government: health, finances, education, infrastructure, religious affairs, communications, utilities, etc.

Already in 1967, the Greater Land of Israel movement was formed with the goal of incorporating all of the territories into the state of Israel. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (in which Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in an effort to regain the Sinai and Golan respectively) and the blow to the Israeli government as a result of the intelligence and operational failures that surfaced in the following months, a new movement emerged. The movement was called Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful, a segment of the National Religious Party).

As opposed to Allon’s proposal, which envisioned Jewish settlement in areas of low Arab concentration, Gush Emunim focused on the centers of Arab settlement territories as part of the unfolding messianic process. In the mid-1970s, members of the block initiated settlement attempts near the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nabulus. These actions brought the group into confrontation with the Labor government (which relied on the National Religious Party), but on several occasions the government backed down and allowed the establishment of "temporary" settlements which soon evolved into permanent sites. During this time, direct negotiations were underway between Israel and Egypt over the separation of forces and the return of part of the Sinai to Egypt.

1977‑1981

Likud, which came to power in 1977, had advocated the incorporation of the territories into the state of Israel for reasons of security and ideology. The territories provided an important buffer between Israel and its Arab neighbors as well as a significant obstacle to a potential Arab invasion. Their return to Arab hands would once again threaten Israeli security. Moreover, Judea and Samaria were in the heart of the historic Land of Israel.

After the Israeli‑Egyptian negotiations of the mid‑1970s under the Labor government and the unprecedented visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977, relations between the two countries began to thaw. At the Camp David summit in 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Sadat agreed that in exchange for the Sinai, including the Rafiah Salient, Egypt would agree to full normalization and diplomatic relations.

In a second set of accords, the two countries agreed that the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria would be given autonomy for a five‑year period, during which time the final status of the territories would be negotiated among representatives of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians. These accords were embodied in the Israeli‑Egyptian Peace Treaty in 1979, and the withdrawal from Sinai was carried out in stages until 1982. Those in the Likud who strongly opposed the withdrawal broke off in 1979 to form the Tehiya (Renaissance) Party.

Likud policy regarding other territories was more in line with the party's traditional position.

On December 12, 1981, the Golan Heights Law extended Israeli law, jurisdiction, and administration to the Golan Heights, effectively annexing the territory to Israel. Outright annexation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank/Judea‑Samaria was seen as inadvisable as it would likely alienate both Egypt and the United States. Instead, the Likud proposed autonomy for the inhabitants of these areas. According to the plan presented by Begin in Knesset on December 28, 1977, these Palestinians would have control of their own education, religious affairs, finances, transportation, construction, housing, energy, industry, trade and tourism, health, labor and welfare, and refugee rehabilitation.

Their power, however, was to be over services and departments--not over territory. Sovereign rule would remain in the hands of Israel, which was to control security, public order, and foreign affairs. Local residents could decide to keep their foreign citizenship or they could opt to become Israeli citizens. Israelis would be free to settle in the territories and Arabs from the territories who chose to become Israelis would be free to settle in Israel.

As it can be assumed that few Arabs in the territories would elect to become Israeli citizens, the Begin proposal was essentially a way to hold on to the territories while withholding political rights from the Arab residents. The Likud version of autonomy was essentially different than the Egyptian, American, or even Labor Party understanding of autonomy.

Sadat envisaged a transitional stage of self‑rule leading to a final stage of Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian independence. While America frowned at the idea of a Palestinian state, it did see autonomy as leading to some form of self-rule independent of Israeli control. Labor suggested that this self-government be formed as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian entity.

The autonomy defined in the Camp David Accords of 1978 was very open: The residents of the territories were to elect a self‑governing authority that was to get autonomy after a five‑year period. However, the negotiations among the various parties never really got off the ground: Jordan didn't join, the Palestine Liberation Organization opposed the idea of autonomy, Israel dragged its feet, Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, and the Israeli war in Lebanon from 1982 to 1985 focused attention and diplomatic effort elsewhere.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.