Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


What the Western Powers Knew Before the Six-Day War

John Quigley

The action by the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 2012 (Resolution 67/19) to acknowledge Palestine’s status as that of a state has inserted a new element into the on-again off-again effort at peace between Israel and Palestine. The Assembly’s resolution refers to the territory of Palestine as the area occupied by Israel in the 1967 (six-day) war, namely, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River. To that extent, Resolution 67/19 supports the Palestinian position that those two areas in their entirety form the territory of the State of Palestine, hence that Israel’s pretensions to West Bank sectors where Israel has built settlements are ill-founded.

What Resolution 67/19 avoids is the circumstance under which Israel came into control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1967. The General Assembly is comfortable calling on Israel to forego any pretensions to those two territories, regardless of how it came into control. But if the General Assembly were to broach that issue, greater impetus might be generated towards compelling Israel to withdraw and to forego any such territorial pretensions.

Despite what one occasionally reads, neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council, back in 1967, supported Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense when it took the Gaza Strip and West Bank. They did not address the issue directly, despite efforts by the USSR to get them to do so. As I point out in The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense: Questioning the Legal Basis for Preventive War, just published by Cambridge University Press, when the USSR tabled resolutions in each of the two UN organs in June 1967 to condemn Israel for aggression, the Western powers diverted attention to proposals for an overall resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 1967, the question of legal responsibility for the 1967 war has remained buried in the halls of the United Nations. Israel has never received approbation at the United Nations for its self-defense claim, but neither has it been condemned for aggression.

As I explain in my book, the Western powers were well aware that the story Israel gave the world as to how the war started was pure fiction. The Israeli government said that Egypt had shelled across the frontier from Gaza early in the morning of 5 June 1967, and that the massive invasion Israel launched that morning against Egypt was a defensive response. Documents declassified a few years ago by the United States show that President Lyndon Johnson knew this story to be false. Beyond that, Johnson knew that the troops that Egypt had drawn up near the Israeli frontier were not going to be used to invade Israel. The government of Great Britain had the same information and the same understanding, but both governments kept silent in the Security Council and in the General Assembly as they listened to Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban reciting Israel’s concocted story.

When Jordan came to Egypt’s defense in the morning of 5 June 1967, Israel successfully drove the Jordanian army out of the West Bank, leaving Israel in occupation of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is helpful that the General Assembly in Resolution 67/19 acknowledges the Palestinian claim to these two territories as the territory of the Palestine state. But action to actually secure that territory would gain greater momentum if the UN were to make clear what the declassified documents show, namely, that Israel invaded Egypt without cause, that Jordan came to Egypt’s aid in an unsuccessful act of collective self-defense, hence that Israel’s control of both the Gaza Strip and West Bank is the result of an act of aggression pure and simple.

Editor’s Note: John Quigley was also interviewed on Middle East Week. Listen here.

About The Author

John Quigley

John Quigley is the author of The International Diplomacy of Israel’s Founders: Deception at the United Nations in the Quest for Palestine (2016). He is the President's Club Prof...

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