Fifty years ago, confronted with clear evidence of an impending Egyptian-led invasion, Israel’s leaders gambled its national survival by launching a pre-emptive assault. What became known as the “Six Day War” has since become a signal historical event in the nation’s history, and still shapes the collective consciousness of the Israeli people. Within less than a week, the tiny country’s territory tripled.
The unsought Israeli control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Desert brought urgent questions before the nation. Should Israel permanently annex one-or-more of these regions? Might they serve, instead, as critical bargaining pieces in a quest to persuade her enemies to abandon their dreams of Israel’s destruction? What legal and ethical principles should guide the national debate?
Fifty years later, East Jerusalem has been integrated into Jerusalem’s municipal borders. To meet critical security needs, the Golan Heights has been annexed into Israel. The Sinai Desert was returned to Egypt. Although Israel withdrew voluntarily from Gaza, the final status of Gaza and the West Bank remain undetermined. In other words, the questions posed by the miraculous outcome of the Six Day War remain unanswered.
The opinions of the Israeli people about these complex legal, ethical, political, and security issues have been measured, repeatedly, for five decades. Polling data makes up an overlooked, but vital, vector of national feedback during several crucial phases of the post-1967 era. Changing national convictions have influenced the decisions of political leaders, even as those leaders have, in turn, shaped public views.
This paper tracks the public’s evolving response to the continuing conflict and, especially, to the indeterminate status of the territories. We conclude that the public showed a surprisingly sophisticated, if intuitive, grasp of the substantial risks tied to the most sweeping proposals and initiatives spanning 1967 to 2017. Our analysis will help anticipate, to some extent, the pathway which still lies ahead for the nation.