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Deciding the Fate of the Territories Occupied During the Six Day War: An Ongoing Debate
The Government Discusses Israel's Peace Plan,
18 - 19 June 1967
Israeli soldiers driving a captured Syrian army vehicle on the outskirts of Quneitra, on the Golan Heights, 11 June 1967
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

(All the documents are on the ISA Hebrew website.
For extracts in English click here)

The Results of the Six Day War
On 10 June 1967 the Six Day War, Israel's greatest military victory, came to an end. The Israel Defence Forces now held the Golan Heights and were deployed along the Jordan River and the Suez Canal. Large stretches of territory from Mt. Hermon in the north to the straits of Tiran at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula were under Israeli control.

Shortly before the outbreak of war Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol set up a National Unity Government including the heads of the Opposition, Gahal leaders Menachem Begin and Yosef Sapir. Moshe Dayan, from the Rafi party, became minister of defence. After the war the government began to discuss the future of the occupied territories, a debate which has continued in one form or another until today.

The foreign minister, Abba Eban, was leading the struggle at a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in New York against attempts to change the results of the war, and the government had to send him instructions for his task. The background to the debate was the fear of a repeat version of events after the Sinai Campaign in 1956, when Israel was forced to withdraw from Sinai and to rely on US guarantees and a UN force which proved ineffective.

The Government Debates on 18 June 1967
Discussions began in the committee of ministers on security matters (14–15 June), which was unable to reach agreement. The issue was brought to a plenary session of the government on 18 June. Eshkol, who had chaired the committee, proposed to sum up with a decision that the Jordan River should be Israel's eastern security border, implying continued control of the West Bank. Moshe Kol, the minister of tourism, said that no such decision had been reached, and if it was, Israel would become a bi-national state. The ministers also discussed other issues such as water, the refugee problem etc. The general consensus of opinion was that Israel should withdraw only on condition that the Arab states agree to make peace and to end the boycott of Israel. (Document No. 1, stenographic record of the meeting,18 June 1967, Israel State Archives, A/8164/7).

The discussion continued in the afternoon. Minister of Police Eliahu Sasson, a veteran diplomat who had taken part in the Armistice talks in 1949, argued that it was not realistic to demand peace treaties. Israel should make do with freedom of navigation in the straits of Tiran, if the Sinai was demilitarized and the Gaza Strip detached from Egypt. As for Syria, he thought Israel should deploy on the international border to the east of the Armistice Lines of 1949, and demand full demilitarization of the Golan Heights and agreement on control of the sources of the Jordan River, even without full peace with Syria. Israel should try to reach agreement quickly, even without Jordan, in order to end Israeli rule over one and a half million Arabs "because we can't do this…..it could cause us to collapse if we remain in this occupation for two months." As for Jerusalem and the West Bank (Judaea and Samaria), Sasson preferred an agreement with King Hussein. Dayan however advocated self-rule for the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank while Israel controlled foreign affairs and security matters. (Document No. 2, stenographic record of the second meeting,18 June 1967, Israel State Archives, A/8164/7). None of the ministers agreed with Sasson that Israel did not need to demand full peace, but they disagreed over the conditions that should be made. They decided to continue the debate the following day.

The Government Debates on 19 June 1967
Because of the opposition of some ministers to giving up any part of the territories traditionally considered part of the Promised Land of Israel (Judaea, Samaria and Gaza), the government could not reach agreement on any offer to King Hussein. There were also disagreements about the wording of the offers to be made to Egypt and Syria. One proposal gave implicit support to the annexation of territory: "Israel proposes peace treaties with Egypt and Syria including security arrangements." Another made it clear that Israel did not intend to annex the Golan Heights and Sinai: "Israel proposes peace treaties with Egypt and Syria with security arrangements, on the basis of the international frontiers." A vote was taken and the second formula, was adopted as it was supported by ten ministers, while nine supported the first. (Document No. 3, stenographic record of the meeting, 19 June 1967, ISA/A/8164/8).

Eshkol and his ministers were not happy with this decision and a committee was set up to reach an agreed formula. The committee had ten members (Eshkol, Yigal Allon, Zalman Aranne, Begin, Israel Barzilai, Dayan, Zerah Warhaftig, Moshe Kol, Sasson and Ya'acov Shimshon Shapiro) assisted by Dr. Ya'acov Herzog, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office and another Foreign Ministry veteran. It met that afternoon and various forms of wording in English and Hebrew were suggested. All the ministers, except for Moshe Kol, agreed that the Gaza Strip, which was part of Mandatory Palestine, should be included in Israel. Begin proposed a decision that "Western Eretz Yisrael is under Israeli sovereignty" even though he knew he did not have a majority for it and did not even put it to the vote (The discussion of the committee, 19 June 1967, Document No. 4, ISA/A/8164/9).

That afternoon the government plenum met again. After a survey of the political situation (not given here) the government unanimously approved the formula reached by the committee: "Israel proposes the conclusion of peace treaties with Egypt [and Syria] on the basis of the international frontiers and Israel's security needs". Details of Israel's demands from Egypt and Syria also appeared (Document No. 5, stenographic record of the second government meeting, 19 June 1967, ISA/A/8164/8).

The government decision was passed on to the US in secret. A positive answer was not received from either Egypt or Syria. On 2 September 1967 the Arab leaders meeting in Khartoum reached a decision known as the "three nos":  no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it. These decisions caused erosion of Israel's willingness to give up Sinai and the Golan Heights in return for peace treaties and security arrangements. At the end of October 1967 Eshkol wrote to Eban: "For your information, I doubt whether the government would approve the decision of 19 June exactly as it stands". A year later, on 31 October 1968, the government adopted a new decision: Israel would demand continued control of Sharm el-Sheikh and a continuous strip of territory from Eilat as a condition for peace with Egypt (Government decisions, 31 October 1968, ISA/A/7634/5).Thus the decision of 19 June was no longer valid. However it seems that when in 1978 Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to withdraw from all of Sinai in return for a peace treaty and security arrangements with Egypt, he had this decision in mind.

The documents appearing here were collected during the preparation of: "Levi Eshkol: The Third Prime Minister, Selected Documents (1895–1969), edited by Arnon Lammfromm and Hagai Tsoref, Commemorative Series for Israel's Late Presidents and Prime Ministers, Series Editor, Yemima Rosenthal, published by the Israel State Archives in 2002.

The Hebrew documents are in fully searchable form.

A Special Joint Publication by the Israel State Archives and the Center for Educational Technology (CET)