The atmosphere which preceded Israeli settlement in the Golan The withdrawal from Sinai at the beginning of 1949 and at the end
The Six Day War caused a thunderbolt in all sectors of Israeli society. The new geopolitical situation which had been created by the war – Israeli rule over the entire Sinai peninsula, over the entire historic “Land of Israel” up to the Jordan, and over most of the Syrian Golan Heights – had special significance against the backdrop of the events of the past, events which had created an atmosphere of security threat, and feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. The internal solidarity of Israeli society, which had reached its peak during the state of alert in late May and early June 1967, had extended to the political system, with governmental cooperation including nearly the full range of the political spectrum, and all political sectors, from the factions of the Labor Party, which had been involved in both personal and ideological dispute, to “Herut” – the rightist movement under the leadership of Menachem Begin. The first to deal with the new realities was the political leadership. Considering the statements of Israeli political leaders, there was unanimous agreement that without a peace agreement, there would be no withdrawal from the areas which had been captured. Regarding the Golan Heights, leaders added their insistence on border adjustments which would cancel the ceasefire lines of 1949, and would return the demilitarized zones to Israeli rule with the demand that the international border would be the permanent one. More importantly, the national unity government in Israel acted to implement these positions by taking a secret step. It decided to propose to Syria (and to Egypt) to sign a peace agreement with Israel on the basis of Israeli withdrawal from the areas it had captured, up to the international border, and the Israeli Cabinet immediately transmitted this secret and dramatic decision to the US government. Settlement in the Golan had not been planned in advance before the war and, thus, a settlement presence was not obvious in the first days after the fighting had ceased, even though almost all of the 223 villages and towns which had existed in the captured territory were now uninhabited. However,
on the other hand, Golan settlement was not spontaneous, as has been thought, and the government of Israel was not dragged into it unwillingly or hesitatingly. In contrast to the narrative of the first settlers, who designed the settlement story, it was the political leadership who initiated the settlement project, the national institutions which supported and financed it from the beginning, and they were assisted by a small group of settlers in implementing it. Before reconstructing events in the Golan from June 1967, it is important to be cognizant of two issues: first, the conditions and the atmosphere which existed in the period following the Six Day War which might be termed “the settlement climate”; second, the salient factors directly operating to accelerate the settlement process. The first of these issues, the settlement climate, is the main topic of this chapter. There are a number of important aspects of this climate which require discussion. In addition to the recognition among most of Israeli society that there could be no return to the political or military situation which had existed between Israel and Syria until 1967, it was also understood that the period of anxiety which had been prevalent in Israel prior to the war should not be allowed to recur. There was also fear in Israel of international pressure to withdraw unilaterally from the areas it had captured, without the military victory leading to a peace treaty. Another important factor to be considered was US interest in preventing a situation which might involve it in political action or military intervention in another international dispute in addition to the one in which it was already involved in southeast Asia. The United States was also determined to maintain and to extend the impact of the failure of the Soviet Union with regard to the war. Another significant element was the opportunity the Israeli victory had created for the settlement administration in Israel to initiate new communities in the Golan, and to reawaken the Zionist ethos of establishing settlements as a tool in the Israeli political and defensive struggle, and in this manner, to restore the organizational and ideological glory it had enjoyed in Israeli society in the past.