Deputy Minister Michael Oren declared Tuesday that the biggest winners of the 1967 Six Day War were the Palestinian people.
Speaking at an event in Jerusalem marking 50 years since the conflict, he contended that before 1967, the concept of a “Palestinian” did not exist as we now know it.
Oren, now deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office, spoke more as a historian than a parliamentarian at the event, which was organized by The Israel Project and took place at the headquarters of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.
His comments drew on research he completed for his seminal 2002 book, “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.”
He remained mostly mum on the issue of where the peace process with the Palestinians stands today.
“We are in a process, but I can’t speak too much about that,” said Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The current efforts, which he said must be undertaken in tight collaboration with the US administration, “may not create two states, but make a diplomatic solution.”
To many, the 50th anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War is a bittersweet one. It represents half a century since the Old City and other historic Jewish sites returned to Jewish hands, but also half a century of Israeli military rule over the Palestinians.
Asked about the dual nature of the jubilee, Oren said that the reunification of Jerusalem “can be celebrated and should be celebrated.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Oren said that up until 1967, the Arabs in Israel, in the Jordanian-annexed West Bank and in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip saw themselves as disparate groups, and looked solely to outsiders to save them.
“I’m going to surprise you. The biggest winners of the Six Day war — fill in the blank,” Oren quizzed the journalists and foreign diplomats in the room. After a period of silence, this reporter offered, “You want to say the Palestinians.”
“Yup,” he responded.
It was the failures of the Arab armies to defeat Israel in the Six Day War that inspired Palestinians to come together and fight for their own independence, he asserted.
In 1967, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was created in Cairo in 1964, merged with Fatah, which had been founded in the Gulf states in 1959, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat.
That umbrella organization brought together a number of smaller groups and parties into one representative body for Palestinians, with the goal of creating a Palestinian state.
According to Oren, that kind of cooperation was unthinkable before the Six Day War.
On the other hand, he continued, the 1967 war paved the way to “transformative” peace deals with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
For Israel — the much more obvious winner of the 1967 war — another benefit was dramatically improved ties with the United States, despite attacking a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, during the conflict, resulting in the deaths of 34 crewmembers.
“The US strategic alliance begins on the seventh day,” Oren said.
Before 1967, he added, the US was “a friend, not a strategic ally.”
Following the Six Day War, the American view changed and it began to see Israel as a new power in the Middle East, one that was capable of standing up to Soviet-backed armies.
Oren also said the world should recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, especially in light of the current turmoil in Syria.
“Without Israeli presence in the Golan Heights, much of the region would be in jeopardy,” he said. “[The Islamic State] would be at the northern Sea of Galilee.”