One of the topics on the agenda of the government in the session held on August 20, 1967 was Israel’s policy in the West Bank. The meeting that day had two parts. Most of the afternoon was devoted to discussing the future of the West Bank and the need to make decisions on this matter. The full transcript of the afternoon session is presented here (Hebrew only).
Much of the discussion was devoted to demographics in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Ministers talked about the demographic implications of holding on to the OPT and considered various possible solutions.
Minister of Interior, Moshe Haim Shapira suggested deferring the decision. In the morning session, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan proposed a plan to build five IDF bases on the ridgeline running across the length of the West Bank, and connecting it to the State of Israel through roads running crosswise. Minister Shapira favored accepting this proposal: “We will establish military strongholds but not civilian settlements”, though he did suggest to settle in sites that had been in Jewish hands prior to 1948: Jerusalem, Hebron, Gush Etzion, Atarot, Beit HaArava and Neve Yaakov.
Minister of Religious Affairs, Zerach Warhaftig put forward a position that favored holding on to the entire occupied territory: “with a minimum number of Arabs, or even with all the Arabs residing there […] as far as the Land of Israel goes, for me, the question of whether it is feasible or not does not exist”. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol commented, “You have no doubts. Everything will be alright and only good can come of it”. Police Minister Eliyahu Sasson calculated that holding on to the Territories would add 1.5 million Arabs to Israel: “Whatever calculation you use – these are 1.5 million Arabs whose civil rights you cannot deny, especially in the 20th Century, with the issue of decolonization at the forefront, even if we have beaten them and occupied them”. “And another thing”, Sasson went on, “Two million and three thousand Jews facing 1.5 million Arabs in the country – all of these Jews would have to enlist to maintain order among the 1.5 million Arabs”. Eshkol scoffed: “So there’ll be work”. Minister Menachem Begin agreed: “There won’t be unemployment then”.
Minister of Police Eliyahu Sasson thought it would not be possible to hold the population of the Territories for long without giving them equal citizenship. He drew a parallel with the experience the country had had with Palestinian citizens of Israel: “We were able to hold the Arabs as we did because we gave them political equality. We told them they were equal citizens in the country and they have learned to make their voices heard. We restrained them, and held them under military rule, but there was a fundamental thing here both externally and internally”.
Minister of Tourism and Development Moshe Kol listed the points on which members of the government agreed: No negotiations on Jerusalem; the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights shall remain within Israel; corrections will be made to the Jordanian and it will go back to what it had been. Since there is no partner for negotiations at this point, Kol said, there is no need, at this point, to get into an “argument between maximalists and those willing to make concessions in order to achieve sustainable peace”. Zeev Sherf, Minister of Trade and Industry said the Golan Heights and the Sinai must be held by Israel as “there is no population problem there”. Gaza, Sherf said “is a problem on its own right”. With respect to the West Bank, Sherf warned that: “If the matter is to be presented, it must be presented honestly. This means presenting the risks; the appeal; the awakening of deep emotions and the possibility of certain sensitivities with respect to wars among Jews regarding the territory; and the serious danger for this generation already and certainly for the next, should we now establish a state, without prospects of a surge of aliya [i.e. Jewish immigration into the country], where 40% of the country’s residents are Arabs.”.
“I do not wish to pester you Mr. Sherf”, Eshkol turned to him, “But what do you propose?”. Sherf replied” “I said let’s not decide now”.