President Obama and the “1967 Border”

Yesterday, President Obama dramatically altered longstanding U.S. policy regarding Israel’s borders and her security by calling upon Israel to pull back to the “1967 borders”.  Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to meet with President Obama today, quickly rejected the President’s call, asserting that such a withdrawal would jeopardize Israel’s security and wellbeing.  In addition, the Prime Minister stated that he expected to hear the President reaffirm commitments made to Israel in 2004 by President George W. Bush and the Congress which made it clear that Israel would not have to withdraw to the “1967 borders.”  President Bush’s commitments reaffirmed U.S. foreign policy that dates back to 1967 and President Johnson.  At that time, it was widely understood that there would be no return the “1967 borders” as they were incapable of providing Israel with adequate defense.

It must be pointed out that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” between the Jewish State of Israel and the Palestinian State.  Firstly, there was no Palestinian State at that time. Secondly, given that there was no Palestinian State, there was no official border.  There was and is the “Green Line” which runs through the West Bank.  This “line” is the 1949 Armistice Line that marked where Israeli and Arab forces stopped fighting at the end of the War of Independence (1947-1949).  The War of Independence was a result of Israel’s Arab neighbors attacking the newly created Jewish State in an effort to destroy her.  The Armistice Line is what people refer to as the “1967 border” since it served as the unofficial border between the Jewish State and Jordan until the Six Day War in 1967.

The Armistice Line, which cut Jerusalem in half and put the Western Wall under Jordanian control, was never intended to serve as an official international border.  As was specified as early as the 1949 General Armistice Agreement between Jordan and Israel: “the line that was designated did not compromise any future territorial claims of the two parties, since it had been dictated by exclusively by military considerations.”

During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel was attacked by Jordan and other Arab neighbors.  In self-defense, Israel pushed the Jordanians out of Jerusalem and all regions that lay to the west of the bank of the Jordan River – gaining possession of the region (now referred to as the West Bank) that lies on the east side of the “Green Line”.

In response to the Six Day War, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 242 which expressed concern with “the grave situation in the Middle East”.  In addition, the resolution called for the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The Resolution states that the U.N. must “promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement” between the involved parties.  The Resolution does not call for Israel to withdraw from the entire West Bank and, thus, return to the “1967 borders”.  Some have tried to twist the wording of Resolution 242 by asserting that it calls for the withdrawal of Israel armed forced from THE territories.  But this is not the case.  It has been widely documented by those involved in crafting the Resolution that the language used was intentional.  There was never the expectation that Israel would return to the “1967 borders”.  They were an artificial armistice line that provided no security to Israel.

The idea that, through negotiations, Israel would withdraw from PARTS of the West Bank and, in turn, define her eastern border was embraced by President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.   In 2005, President Bush stated that “any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the (“1967 borders”) must be mutually agreed to.”

Yesterday, President Obama changed U.S. foreign policy by stating that the United States believes that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”  These words legitimize an artificial line that was never intended to define a border.  While the President acknowledged the need for “mutually agreed swaps” of land, his words put “the 1967 lines” at the foundation of any future discussions between Israel and Palestine.  This is not what the statesmen who crafted U.N. Resolution 242 intended years ago.  This is not what previous Presidents demanded of Israel.  And withdrawing to the “1967 borders” is not Israel’s idea of peace and security.

While on the surface President Obama’s words might seem like nothing new, they are. They give legitimacy to a border that endangers the Jewish State, cuts through the heart of Jerusalem – the capital of Israel and Judaism’s holiest city, and simply defines where a war stopped in 1949 – but never defined where the sovereign nation of Israel ended and where the sovereign nation of Palestine began.  The President appears to be reinterpreting the purpose of the “1967 border”. Given that the President’s “reinterpretation” came hours before Prime Minister Netanyahu was set to arrive in the United States to meet with the President and speak before Congress, it appears that his words were meant to dictate what Israel’s borders will look like.  The President’s timing suggests that he wants to undermine the Prime Minister’s vision and set preconditions for future peace talks.  Israel, a friend and an ally who already has the challenge of negotiating peace with a “partner” that refuses to recognize her very right to exist and now includes Hamas, deserves to be treated better.

Sadly, the President seems to be following in the footsteps of other world leaders who have attempted to rewrite or tinker with the complexities surrounding Israel and her neighbors.  It is time for those of us who love Israel to reach out of our President and let him know that his words are putting Israel in danger, delaying the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution and leading us all away from a true and lasting peace.

2 thoughts on “President Obama and the “1967 Border”

  1. Do you have any facts of the history of U.S. Presidents views on the return to ’67 borders. Liberals are all saying this is what all our administrations have been saying or even that it has been unspoken but true, for 40 years?

    thanks

    jim

    • taken from an American Jewish Committee document which captures previous administrations positions…the document states that President Obama is the first President to explicitly state that borders be based on 1967 lines..but as history shows us, there is a lot more to it….

      Historically, the U.S. backed Israel’s view that UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 does not require a full withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines (the 1967 lines). Indeed, the resolution was co-authored by both the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, and the British Ambassador Lord Caradon. This was specifically true of the withdrawal clause in the resolution, which called on Israeli armed forces to withdraw “from territories” not “from the territories,” as the Soviet Union had demanded. The exclusion of the definite article “the” was authorized by President Johnson, who rejected Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin’s pressure to include stricter additional language requiring a full Israel withdrawal. To be sure, Resolution 242 also emphasized the “inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war.” Yet at the same time, it also affirmed the right of every state in the area to live within “secure and recognized boundaries.”

      President Johnson’s insistence on upholding the territorial flexibility of 242 could be traced to a statement he made on June 19, 1967, in the immediate wake of the Six-Day War. In this statement, he declared that the old “truce lines” had been “fragile and violated,” and that what was needed were “recognized boundaries” that would provide “security against terror, destruction and war.”

      Thirteen years later, in March 1980, the U.S. voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 465, which determined, inter alia, that:

      …all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East…

      Although the main focus of the resolution was Israel’s settlement policy, the provision that all measures taken by Israel in the occupied territories “have no legal validity” implied that those measures could not serve as a basis for territorial claims in the future. (Contrary to the concept stipulated in President’s George W. Bush letter to Prime Minister Sharon 24 years later that the final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect the “new realities on the ground.”). (IMPORTANT) However, the Carter administration later explained that it had intended to abstain in the vote and that its support for the resolution was due to a “breakdown in communication” between the White House and the U.S. mission to the UN.

      On September 1, 1982, President Reagan, in an address that came to be known as the “Reagan Plan,” stated: “In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.” Secretary of State George Shultz was even more explicit in a 1988 address: “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”

      In 1997, in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote: “I would like to reiterate our position that Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders which should be directly negotiated and agreed with its neighbors.”

      About three weeks before he completed his second term in January 2001, President Clinton presented his own plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      According to the plan, Israel would have retained the main settlement blocs in exchange for a “land swaps,” by which Israel would concede territory it held before the 1967 war in return for any new West Bank land. The “land swap” was not required by Resolution 242, but was an Israeli concession at the 2000 Camp David Summit that Clinton embraced. However, the Clinton parameters did not explicitly mention the 1967 borders and were officially withdrawn before he left office. After George W. Bush came into office, U.S. officials informed the newly elected Sharon government that it would not be bound by proposals made the Barak team at Camp David, which became the basis for the Clinton proposals.

      In a letter dated April 14, 2004, President Bush wrote to Prime Minster Sharon that he remained committed to his “vision of two states living side by side in peace and security as the key to peace, and to the roadmap as the route to get there.” The President further stated:

      As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

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