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Back to 1967?

August 1, 2011
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What Are the 1967 Lines?


 The 1967 lines were actually armistice lines between Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, with the “line” dividing Israel and the Arab nations known as the Green Line. Considering their supposed importance in modern diplomacy, it is amazing to find that the Palestinians did not control any of the territory under discussion before 1967. The Jordanians controlled the West Bank—the region Israelis often call Judea and Samaria, its biblical name—as well as so-called East Jerusalem, while Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip; these areas have most often been mentioned as locations for a hypothetical Palestinian state. Outside the Israeli–Palestinian context, Syria held the Golan Heights. Despite the current impetus by Jordan and Egypt for Israel to enable the creation of a Palestinian state, from 1949 until 1967, those two Arab nations never once gave full control of their territories to the Palestinians.

Israel’s path to taking control of the areas “beyond the Green Line” actually began shortly after they declared independence in 1948. An existential war between the newborn Jewish state and multiple Arab armies eventually led to ceasefire lines in 1949, lines that differed in multiple ways from the original UN partition plan calling for Jewish and Arab states on what was then British territory.

Border fence between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights www.israelimages.com

What we refer to today as the 1967 “borders” were “lines” established in 1949, notes Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,  a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, and former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Speaking with Bridges for Peace, Baker said of the armistice agreement with Jordan, “It specifically says that these lines are not borders and don’t prejudice the claims of either side to defensible borders when the time comes to negotiate peace.” Dr. Gideon Biger, professor of historical geography and political geography with Tel Aviv University and editor of The Encyclopedia of International Boundaries, told Bridges for Peace the territory changed some from the lines in 1949 and those in 1967, but the basics were the same.

In 1967, Israel again faced a potential existential threat.  Baker said the Egyptians started the Six Day War in 1967. Egypt had blocked Israeli shipping in the Red Sea and sent troops into the demilitarized Sinai that served as a buffer between Egypt and Israel. Israel decided to respond and warned Jordan and Syria not to join the conflict, but they did anyway. So from June 5–10, in just six days and against multiple Arab armies, the Israelis miraculously took back the entirety of Jerusalem, all of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula.

Border with Lebanon www.israelimages.com

The United Nations called for Israel to withdraw from territory taken in the 1967 conflict, although it should be noted the UN has chosen to alter its approach to issues in the past—the shifting away from the original “Palestine” partition plan being a good example. Furthermore, in an editorial in TheWall Street Journal, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dr. Dore Gold points out that UN Resolution 242, a key resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, does not specify that Israel must withdraw from all territory taken in the conflict, just from “territories”—leaving open a flexibility on the final lines. Baker also challenges the idea that the 1967 lines should be the baseline for the border. Pointing out that Israel took the territory in a conflict of self-defense, he said, “It’s widely acknowledged in international law and practice that acquisition of territory as a result of a defensive war gives a far better title than acquisition of territory in an offensive war.”

More importantly, Baker notes that Israelis have a longstanding historical claim to the territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territory that includes biblical sites such as Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jericho. Even though Baker didn’t reject a two-state solution, he nonetheless says that “Israel has a far better claim to these territories than anybody else.” Yet, despite these sentiments, the lines have managed to become something of a default for some when discussing a hypothetical Palestinian state. That’s beside the fact that the land-for-peace model undergirding the discussion has a horrible track record.

Land for Peace?

Ma’ale Adumim www.israelimages.com

The one relatively successful example of land-for-peace between Israel and Arabs was the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, in which Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula as part of the iconic peace treaty. Even that cold peace is in jeopardy today, however. While it seems as though the international implications should be enough to keep the technical peace alive, as of press time, the shadow of anti-Israel leaders in Egypt possibly someday doing away with the treaty or revising it looms large following the Egyptian revolution.

In every other example of Israeli withdrawal in an effort to calm tensions, the conflict has simply moved with the border lines. In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, which they entered in the early 1980s to fight Palestinian terrorists. Since the 2000 withdrawal, Israel has faced kidnappings and even a full-blown war in 2006 from the terrorist Hizbullah group. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The result? Thousands of rockets from terrorists and a war with the terrorist Hamas group.

Jordan River That’s one reason why Dani Dayan—the chairman of the Yesha Council, which represents the Israeli communities in the West Bank—is strongly opposed to the land-for-peace concept. He argued in an e-mail to Bridges for Peace that the idea that a “primitive” border fence would be all that would separate Israel from all the extremists in the Middle East is “inconceivable.” Said Dayan, “We need a river and a valley [the Jordan River Valley] and the mountains of Judea and Samaria to defend Israel.” Furthermore, it’s a relatively short distance from the Green Line at the edge of the West Bank to the main terminal in Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport—less than eight miles (12 kilometers)! To put that into perspective, the current range of Hamas’ rockets in Gaza can travel twice that distance and beyond.

Biger—a supporter of a peace deal involving territorial concessions and who was on the official Israeli negotiation team with the Syrians and involved as giving advice behind the scenes with the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian talks—offers a dissenting opinion about the defensive importance of the exact placement of the border. While he is not an expert on exact defensive threats, he believes the defensive properties of the border were important in 1948, but not with today’s missile technology. Pointing out that the settlement blocks that Israel keeps will likely be fairly close to the border anyway, Biger points out that significant Israeli civilian population centers will be in range of attacks regardless of where the exact border falls. And, advanced enough rockets can fire well over 20 miles (32 kilometers).

Border Patrol, Jordan Valley www.israelimages.com

In other words, the essential element to security is true peace. But based on past examples, how to attain that peace is unclear, as giving up land certainly doesn’t guarantee it. And at this point, just agreeing on borders—peace or not—is a problem.

Peace or Pieces?

After Obama presented his proposal that the 1967 lines with agreed-upon swaps framework be the basis for Israeli–Palestinian peace talks, he tried to emphasize the land swaps component of the topic. In his mind, that meant the border would change, so problems would be solved. But the one-to-one land swap arrangement creates quite a mess for Israel even if they can try and swap some territory. For one thing, finding spots on the western side of the Green Line that Israel could exchange with the Palestinians for major settlement communities in the West Bank is a challenging task. Biger summarized the problem when he noted that “we have to look not only on what we want to have but from where we can pay for them…for every acre that Israel would have from the West Bank, it will have to pay one acre.”

Security Fence, Jerusalem www.israelimages.com

While Biger did point out that small swaps actually took place in the peace deal with Jordan, this swap would be much more complex and challenging. The total territory Israel would be expected to retain in the West Bank for the “major settlement blocks” would only be around 3% of the total West Bank, according to Biger. But that’s still around 150–200 square kilometers (58–77 square miles) of land, and swapping off an acre here or there for all that territory won’t be easy.

Even a tunnel linking Gaza to the West Bank would only account for around 20 square kilometers (8 square miles), according to Biger, and his understanding is the Palestinians are concerned with every acre of land, rather than its value. He nonetheless expressed the belief that a deal could be done if both sides were determined enough. But forcing a deal won’t change its negative implications or impact, and what happens when those leaders leave office?

Slicing and dicing the border is not the worst part. Even a deal that retains the “major settlement blocks” involves great upheaval. Dayan said that there is no common definition of settlement blocks, so depending on the territory under discussion, withdrawing from the areas outside the blocks could result in the evacuation of “anywhere between 80,000 and 200,000 Israelis.” This is a staggering number when one remembers that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip—an emotionally heartrending experience that included problems in finding new places for families to live—involved the forced evacuation of less than 10,000 Israelis. Said Dayan, “I think it would be impossible in moral, practical, and monetary terms. It would completely tear apart the fabric of the Israeli society, crush its backbone. I cannot foresee an Israeli leader—let alone the Israeli public—making such a decision.”

Then there’s the haggling over territory. Some of the disagreements are over significant Israeli cities in the West Bank. Ariel, founded in 1978, is home to more than 17,000 residents and a school on the path to university status, while Ma’ale Adumim is a city founded around the same time and home to over 39,000.These aren’t small communes sitting on scattered hills. How does Israel tell its civilians who, in some cases, have been living in these areas for around four decades that they must leave?

And last but certainly not least are water resource divisions. While almost never discussed in the media when covering Israeli–Palestinian negotiations, water is a scarce resource in the Middle East. Biger said that some underground waters serving Israel have springs on what could be the “Israeli side” of the Green Line, but areas where most of that water enters the ground are on what could be the “Palestinian side.” If the Palestinians put in wells of their own, that will hurt Israel’s supply. Just one more complication to add to a growing list.

44 Years Can’t Be Erased

In the end then, the idea that the 1967 lines have a historical or legal reason for having to be the baseline for Israeli-Palestinian talks is incorrect. And while some believe that dealing with borders will be easier in the talks than resolving the status of Jerusalem or refugees, there’s nothing easy about borders. Peace is clearly a worthy goal between the sides, but there’s a reason the negotiations on a traditional land-for-peace framework have taken more than 15 years and remain unsolved. It’s not 1967 anymore, and what didn’t prevent conflict then isn’t the right way to prevent it now either.

Source: By Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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