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.