The dream was simple: Israel’s victory in the war would lead to victory over war itself.
Many felt that the trajectory of the Jewish people would undergo an enlightened shift after the 1967 Six Day War. The Golan Heights, as well as Judea and Samaria and the Sinai Peninsula, were now in Israel’s hands. Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, who had previously held these territories, now demanded their return. Many saw this desire on the side of the Arabs as an opportunity for the Israelis: for the first time in history, we held solid bargaining chips that if acted upon wisely, could be traded in as part of a peace agreement. The dream was simple: Israel’s victory in the war would lead to victory over war itself.
Peace was thought to alter not just Israel’s fate but also the fate of the Jewish people. Israel would cease to be an isolated state, but rather become an integral part of the Middle East, and once completely integrated, would also be fully accepted by Europe and the entire West. The Jews’ two-millennia-long estrangement from humanity would finally come to an end, and they would be accepted into the family of nations.
However, it appeared that there was another way to reap the benefits of victory. Israel could settle it rather than exchanging it for peace. Many people felt that this would be the event that would transform Jewish history from the bottom up. According to this perspective, a nation is not connected to itself when it lives outside of its own land. In other words, there will be a crack in the nation’s soul if the nation’s present does not unfold in the same places as its history.
The early memories of the Jewish people were forged in places like Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron and Nazareth, and Israel’s triumph in the 1967 war allowed Jews to return to these areas of the historic homeland. This would establish a living link between the past and the present, and was seen as a process allowing the Jewish people’s wounded and traumatized psyche to heal. It was thought that repairing the nation and settling on ancient soil would also cure the future.
The conflicting ideas between these two dreams is easily noticeable, yet they were both supported by a fundamental agreement. Both parties felt that by properly leveraging wartime victories, they could alter the future of the Jewish people. They both had one more thing in common: they were both proven to be incorrect. This is not a statement to be taken lightly. It’s easy to judge in hindsight and not achieving the realisation of peace by no means fell solely at the feet of Israel, in fact many would argue a case that it’s quite the opposite. As time passed, these dreams began to fade and more and more Israelis broke free from these two beliefs.
So, what happened to the dreams? To begin with, both the Israeli left and right shifted. Many on the left stopped talking about “peace” and gave up hope that a diplomatic solution to the Middle East’s problems was on the horizon. The right was likewise altered. The majority of the right no longer thinks that a settlement, even if it fulfills prophecies, will result in tomorrow’s redemption.
There is another distinct difference – the “blame-game”. Ever since the Second Intifada, many on the left have talked less about peace and more about the harm done by the occupation; and ever since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the right has talked less about redemption and more about the security threat. Essentially, despite one’s views on settlement, solution, peace and security, which had traditionally placed the individual on one side of the aisle or the other, today’s defining factor is often divided based on who they deem more responsible and essentially to blame for the conflict.
The left’s prevalent position today is that if Israel remains in the territories and continues to govern over a Palestinian civilian population, it would suffer three consequences: moral degradation, diplomatic isolation, and demographic loss. Most demographers anticipate that the day will soon come when Jews will no longer form a majority in Israeli-controlled territory. Hence, once the Jews become a minority in their own land, it will cease to be their land.
The right frequently responds to this demographic argument with denial, by citing alternate demographers which estimate that the Jewish majority is not under jeopardy. Even if that is true, and Palestinians account for “just” 40% of the country’s population, it would be difficult to designate such a country as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In other words, the desire to cling to the Land of Israel defies the self-definition of the State of Israel.
It is fascinating to observe how the right and left have become mirror images of each other: The right no longer believes that settling the land will bring redemption, but says withdrawing will bring disaster; the left no longer believes that withdrawing from the territories will bring redemption, but says remaining there will bring disaster. The left and right have undergone similar processes: They have both moved from hopes to fears.
However, new processes have begun to form, the Abraham Accords for one, those at the centre of the “dreams and fears” debate seem to be attempting to replace paralysis with pragmatism. While these renewed visions are based less on a romanticised vision of peace or redemption and rather economics and a mutual agreement of the military threat Iran poses to the region, this too, if acted upon correctly could lead to Israel becoming a fully integrated and accepted part of the Middle East. As divided as Israeli politics appears, if one strips away the rhetoric, there is a basic consensus of the needs, desires and demands of the everyday person on the street regardless of their affiliation. So, perhaps the dreams are not dead but in a process of renewal, maybe they are less philosophical and more based in realism, which could be argued is likely a positive step and maybe the romantic dreams lie not in political ideology but in the daily exchanges and normalization between Israeli and Arab citizens from the countries that currently constitute the Abraham Accords and the hope that more will soon join.