Israel Wondered What to Do With Arabs Before War Was Over, 1967 Protocols Reveal

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli paratroopers who fought in the Six Day War stand in front of the Kosel, as the Old City was liberated, June 7, 1967. (David Rubinger/GPO)

Already on the third day of the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli officials were expressing concern over how they would be able to rule over the then 650,000 Arabs in Yehudah and Shomron, which the IDF was already well on its way to liberating. The protocols of a secret government meeting on the third day of the war show that the questions that are on today’s agenda were already recognized and acknowledged even before the war was over. And the responses, the protocols show, are also similar, although at least one solution – the mass migration of Arabs to Canada – is now off the agenda.

The protocols of that meeting, as well as other heretofore secret protocols, have been released by the IDF in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. The discussions surrounded the same solutions proposed by various political factions today – sovereignty and absorption of all of Yehudah and Shomron, autonomy and an independent Palestinian state. The meeting included representatives of all the major parties, including the right-wing Cherut faction, headed by Menachem Begin, who joined an emergency national unity government in the days before the war broke out in mid-May 1967. One decision that all agreed to at that meeting was the reunification of Yerushalayim, a decision that was approved unanimously.

About other issues, there was considerable disagreement. The protocols show then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol saying that regardless of the circumstances, Israel could not grant citizenship to Arabs in the liberated areas. “No matter what, they cannot be given the right to vote for Knesset representation,” Eshkol said, according to the protocols, as there would be 1.2 million Arabs with the right to vote (when Israeli Arabs were counted in that figure), compared to the 3 million Jews in Israel at the time. Among the solutions, he told Cabinet members, was the possibility of setting up a military government that would administer the daily lives of residents, or doing so in cooperation with Jordan, which would supply civil services.

Begin said that there was no reason not to declare sovereignty over the entire area. “All of Western Eretz Yisrael belongs to us. We were attacked. Where have we ever seen that the victor in a defensive war that was forced to shed its blood should surrender? Which armies will they send to oppose such a move? We have already beaten them all. Why is there this rush to give it back to [then-Jordanian ruler King] Hussein?” He also opposed setting up a Palestinian state, which he said would be a “disaster.”

Begin said that the best solution was to treat them like immigrants. “The Palestinians should receive the status of residents, but not citizenship. After seven years, some of them could be made citizens. During that time, we can take steps to ensure that we remain the majority, to bring new immigrants from Russia, and encourage people to have children,” Begin said.

One solution that was discussed was the massive migration of Palestinians to Canada, and was broached by Eshkol at the meeting. Eshkol said that the government of Canada had made the offer in the days after the war, and Eshkol said that “voluntary emigration would be a good solution as well.” It is not clear if anyone followed up on the offer.

IDF officials also attended the meeting, with then-IDF Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin describing the fighting in Yehudah and Shomron. “We intentionally left routes open and did not blow up the Allenby Bridge in order to give whoever wanted to an opportunity to run away,” Rabin said. “We also wanted to ensure that there was a ‘release valve,’ in order to avoid heavier fighting in the region.” By the third day of the war, the IDF had already taken Gush Etzion, and were at the gates of Chevron. “The Arab Legion has run away, and there is no resistance from the locals, but we know that the chief families of Chevron are staying put and they are planning to cooperate. In other cities, like Jenin, Shechem and Ramallah, we anticipate that soldiers and residents will leave.”